Episode 10 - Gravity Of Situation
“Thanks for the game, though, that was pretty fun,” Suzanne Marshall half-lied, gathering her deck together again. The youth sitting opposite her nodded, either oblivious to her hidden insincerity, or not really caring.
“Yeah. Your deck's pretty strange though, you don't seem to have any finisher at all, it just kinda piles up,” he commented, moving his own Archaic Rumble back to his deck. Once he had managed to get the card into the conflict, Suzanne had been unable to really fight back, due to its powerful immunity. The game had finished quickly from there.
“Well, yes,” Suzanne laughed, “That's why I'm looking for the Black Carpets.”
“Wouldn't have helped any against my Archaic Rumble,” he smirked proudly, “But I guess you'd have had something to swing for game with and put pressure on me before I could. Sorry I couldn't help you out with that, but Black Carpet is a pretty rare card, at least, in trades.”
“Yeah,” an onlooker added, “Like I said, everyone who wanted one around here, traded for it already, and everyone's buying the third set more lately. You might be out of luck cause I really don't think Sergeant Tyler is gonna trade either.”
“And no one knows any other Gravity element users around here that would have one,” Suzanne remarked, sighing with feigned disappointment.
“Most people that lucky from around here would have turned around and sold Black Carpet on the net. The card's pretty weird to play just one of, so since it's rare, it's easier to just sell it.”
“Yes, unfortunately I haven't been having any luck with finding reasonable offers online,” Suzanne frowned, picking up her bag.
“There were some really good Gravity players at the last big event in Boston but Somerville doesn't really have that many people I know about who play Gravity seriously other than the Sergeant, so I think you're wasting your time.”
“The fun part of business trips is always getting to see the local meta,” Suzanne shrugged, pushing her chair in, “I'll be back in a bit, then, I guess.”
She made her way out the door and found the most 'secluded' spot she could, in the mall, to make her call to Gene. To her surprise, the man answered instead of letting it go through to his voice mail, an unusual event for a Saturday.
“Did you find them?” was Gene's greeting. He sounded apprehensive already.
“I can't be sure,” Suzanne replied, choosing her words carefully, “I sort of hope not, they keep telling me about this Special Forces Sergeant who is basically the only one around here that uses the card. I didn't ask about the rumors, but if there's only one person...”
“I've been trying to get information from Tomket but they aren't exactly keen on giving out transaction information, even to us. Do you have a name though?”
“Tyler is all they said,” Suzanne answered, lowering her voice as she got up off the bench to avoid the family that had just gathered to sit on one of the adjacent benches, “Supposed to be here around half hour from now, but I don't know what to do from here. If the military is involved in any way and already have someone who can use their ability, we may be the ones at the disadvantage in information.”
“I was trying not to think too hard about the implications of that. Thank you for dashing my illusions,” Gene said wryly.
“I'm serious,” Suzanne sighed, “What should I do? Even if I am only here to confirm or collect information, I may be dealing with someone who can outflank me in even that. The way they talk about this guy I am beginning to think I'd be dealing with an intelligence officer or something.”
“Be friendly,” Gene said seriously, “The one thing we do know about them is their avatar. Even if they are military, even if they are military intelligence, you have the advantage in any single encounter, especially if you don't play against them.”
Suzanne groaned at the feeling of validation and the corresponding rise in confidence she now felt, as she moved again to make her conversation undetectable to passersby.
“You'd think after more than a year of this I'd be immune to the effect your words have.”
“Why would you even want to be immune? I have a lot of faith in you, and I'm very serious about that. You know if I thought you couldn't do this I'd tell you to call it off.”
“Times like this I wish I could poke you through the phone,” Suzanne grumbled, “Alright. I'll update you somehow when I get back to my hotel later.”
“Alright. Don't forget to eat. You know how you get,” Gene scolded.
“Yes yes, I'll go grab something now...”
Twenty minutes later, Suzanne had let the glory of her sandwich push the gravity of her situation out of her mind, only to be jolted back to her alert state when she entered the hobby shop. A clear voice rang out as she did, announcing her arrival with the words, “Hey, she's back, Sarge.”
Suzanne looked up sharply, eyes darting around the room for anyone who looked like a 'Sarge', hoping to get even a split second of 'early assessment' of the person, but saw no one that fit her mental expectation. The boy who had announced her waved her over.
“Hey, come on over, she's here early!”
A woman in a dark jacket, with slightly angular, yet somewhat 'Asian' features, and long straight black hair, sitting at the table next to the boy, gave a small wave of greeting. Suzanne scrambled to process the situation as she approached the table, composing herself as quickly as she could.
“Hello,” the black haired woman greeted in a completely normal tone. Suzanne stammered out a hi, immediately chiding herself for letting her surprise get the better of her anyway.
“Not what you were expecting?” the woman smiled, “I get that a lot.”
“Everyone here's been talking about Special Forces,” Suzanne laughed, “I thought almost all Special Forces were guys, and they kept calling you Tyler.”
“Oh, that's the whole 'military last name' thing,” the woman said, “Amera-Lynn Tyler is my name, but everyone pronounces the first part strange, so...”
“Ohhhh,” Suzanne smiled, “I wouldn't know anything about that, my name is Sue Marzen, so it's my last name that tends to get that problem. Amera-Lynn, huh?”
“I prefer just Amera, though as you noted they all just call me 'Sarge' here,” she said, before her voice took on a dramatic tone, “I have been told of your plight regarding lack of Black Carpet, but alas, I need both of mine and do not wish to trade. In fact I'm looking for a third myself.”
“Ah,” Suzanne said, attempting to once again appear disappointed. A moment later, she felt a heaviness around herself, and the tell-tale feeling of a psionic 'scan' coming from the woman before her. Her heart leapt as she realized she was unable to repress her own instinctive response, which was somewhere between a 'greeting' and a mild 'barrier'.
Amera-Lynn did not seem surprised, nor did the heavy presence recede. In fact, the opposite occurred, with a gentle squeeze and a nudge following the interaction, as if to test. Suzanne's more logical side failed to suppress the reaction of her inner, telepathically attuned consciousness.
“A hug? Well, nice to meet you too,” Madame Sharley projected. The reaction was, for a brief moment, surprised, then a hissing, rumbling laughter.
“I never thought of it as a hug before,” Black Carpet hissed back, still emanating amusement.
Suzanne groaned inwardly. Any intent of hiding her level of familiarity with the ability had just vanished, and she could only wonder if subconsciously, her avatar had decided that in the moment. The forthrightness of the other woman already felt compelling.
“So, even though no trade will happen, would you like to 'borrow' me for testing?” came the question. It took Suzanne a moment to realize that Amera-Lynn had also spoken those words aloud, only substituting 'mine' for 'me'.
“Oh... No, I've already done plenty of that,” she lied quickly, “No one back home minds if I proxy, but I'd like to actually have the card for tournaments and trips like this.”
“Sorry then, but I simply can't part with mine, especially when I am trying to get another. Unfortunately everyone has been buying up the Bindings of Honor packs, so unless I invest in a box of first set and get lucky, I don't think I'll be any better off than you are.”
“Interesting that you'd want more than two,” Suzanne noted, mentally calculating quickly, “It's the sort of card one just searches in the midgame.”
“Mammoth Trumpeters don't fit into my main progressions very well. If I play my Earth creatures it is usually because I'm trying to move quickly, and then they always seem to be just a little too slow for my plans, or mean I can't attack with Lost Ninny,” she noted.
“And Call To Arms doesn't help either? You could play it on second turn after a Ninny and still attack,” Suzanne suggested, completely letting herself follow Gene's advice now.
“Call To Arms? What's that? I haven't had time to review Bindings much, it sounds like a spell.”
“Best spell ever,” came a declaration from a teenager about two tables away with spiky brown hair. He turned with a grin, and noted who he had spoken to.
“Hey, you're that Sergeant everyone keeps telling me about, right? Toughest duelist around, so much so that people get scared just thinking about playing you, right?”
“I didn't know it had gotten that bad,” Amera-Lynn noted, with a tilt of the head. Suzanne's interest now switched directly to the young man, who was getting up from the table where he had just won a game.
“I'll never understand people who play games like this but are scared of losing, you know?” he chuckled, now approaching the table, the slight swagger in his step indicating that he was not one of those people himself, at least not in his own mind.
“Maybe it's not losing the game that they're afraid of,” Amera-Lynn shrugged. Her words made Suzanne flinch involuntarily. Her tone had changed, to quiet and serious.
“What then? Afraid you'll show how weak they are or something?” he laughed, now resting his hand on the back of the vacant chair opposite the servicewoman.
“Hm. 'Or something', yes.”
“Well, I ain't afraid. How about a game or two?” he challenged, still grinning. The other players in the room now began to gravitate toward the table, which gave Suzanne an excuse to back off a bit, to get out of the way.
“Sure,” she nodded, “But just one. After that I'd like to investigate this 'Call To Arms' thing.”
“I'll just show it to you,” he said, pulling the chair out and seating himself, “I've got three and I don't think you're the type that finishes games fast so you'll get to see it.”
Amera-Lynn nodded again, and handed her deck to her opponent, to shuffle.
“Heh, you're confident too, I see,” he smirked, accepting it, “Most people don't do that unless they know the other person already knows their deck.”
“If you've heard that much about me you probably already know my deck,” she pointed out.
“True. Then no holding back, alright? Here. Mine's all Earth, heavy rocker style. So now that you know, you can just go all out, right?”
He had extended his hand to give his own deck to the sergeant, and she took it carefully, beginning to shuffle without actually responding to his words. Rather than handing it back to him directly, she put it in the middle of the table and set five of her dark blue tempo tokens in a small semicircle on her side, to represent her grid points.
“Oh nice, I didn't even know those came in dark blue,” he noted, popping five of his own out of his dispenser, “I got the gold-ish ones. Anyways, the challenged goes first, unless you don't want to.”
“I will,” she said, popping one more token out and gesturing the end of her turn. Her next turn, following his first, was the same. The young man had something to play with his first two tempo, though. A quick hand movement indicated that he depleted them, and he placed a Steady Roots card onto the table from his hand.
“So what's your name?” Amera wondered, depleting three tempo and deploying a Stag Gardener.
“William Riley,” he answered, pushing his own slight psionic energy outward as he played an Antlion Trap. The imagery became real in an instant, startling Suzanne slightly even though she had purposely attuned herself to it. The earth beneath the Stag Gardener collapsed in a wide circle, causing the Majest to slide down into the center and vanish into a sandpit. Suzanne cringed slightly, noting that it was unclear who had generated the imagery.
“That always seems to happen to them one way or another,” Amera-Lynn sighed, depleting four tempo this time and playing a Sienna Startle. The Salamander skirted the edge of the disappearing pit, and hissed slightly at the writhing Great Vine on the 'other side'.
“Oh, that thing... that's dangerous, don't see it played much where I came from,” William noted, “Okay then. Guess you get to see this early. Call To Arms!”
The spell seemed to have no accompanying imagery at all, hinting to Suzanne that the woman was the one generating most of it. William showed the Ursa Rumble he got from his deck, to everyone, and depleted his other two tempo to play it.
“Counterswarm tactic,” the officer noted, “Then I play Morning Glory, and activate Sienna's effect.”
Suzanne felt the spike of intensity clearly, when the Salamander consumed the tempo to enhance its senses and movement. A flaming dash was met by the Ursa Rumble's roar, but the absorbing power of the bearlike creature did not match up to the Salamander's ferocity of fang and flame. William had not even flinched, as far as she could tell, though, and was already making his move.
“Diversion trap, actually. Didn't matter if you swarmed or not. I'll play Morning Glory too. Steady attacks your Sienna Startle.”
The third Great Vine to enter the conflict had more of an effect on its ally than the one on the opposing side. The rumbling power moved through the earth, energizing the Steady Roots by effect and presence, allowing it to ignore some of the combustive damage that the exhausted Salamander did, in an attempt to protect itself.
Amera put the Salamander card into her graveyard pile atop the unfortunate Stag Gardener, and nodded in appreciation of the young man's tactics before applying her own.
“Impel End, on your Morning Glory, and mine attacks your Steady Roots.”
The gravity distortion tore William's Morning Glory apart in one blast, but the battle between Amera's, and the Steady Roots, was moreso confusing than violent, to the onlookers. William drew played his Gaia Rumble almost as soon as the battle ended, and another ground collapse dragged even the large Morning Glory into another sandpit.
The 'world' in their minds was now clearer, and details such as the bubbling of the water in the quiet pool on Amera-Lynn's side, could be noticed. The sudden churning and thrashing and heaving of massive tentacles, from that pool, was harder to miss. Kraken Eleganto.
“Whoa!” William exclaimed, skidding backwards a few inches with his chair. Suzanne tried to sense if Amera had applied her power in some way other than the vivid imagery, but found herself unable to get a clear impression. Amera simply went 'hmm?'.
“Wasn't expecting Kraken. Figured you'd play that snake that destroys when it isn't blocked.”
“Ah, Interpret Coda. I've considered and tested it but somehow it never seems to work out. End.”
William now played a Queen Honeysuckle, and a new Morning Glory, but risked no attack. His eyes widened when Amera's turn consisted of not one, but two Jonas, and an Ardor Matrix. He glanced over at her graveyard, and mentally added the cards there to Jonas' power rating.
“Already five thousand each... that's totally not scary or nothin',” William joked, before a blast of ink, and thrashing of hyperextended tentacles, signaled the Kraken's attack. Amera discarded a Full Sail from his hand, and looked at it in slight confusion as William moved the gold token from his grid area into his tempo.
“Not exactly all Earth after all, is it?”
“Spells don't count. Although I kinda needed that one. Let's see...”
He drew a new card, and played Call To Arms again, this time getting a Mammoth Trumpeter, which appeared in the conflict with a sound that made the ground quake for a moment before the giant mole, Modrun Tremor, tunneled out enough to be visible, alongside a new Steady Roots.
“Think you can handle all this? Gaia Rumble, attack Kraken, and Honeysuckle destroy the rune.”
The Great Vine 'waited' for the Gaia Rumble to absorb the heat emanating from the Ardor Matrix, giving it enough power to actually charge into the black pool without fear of actually being dragged in completely by the Kraken. Only when Gaia emerged victorious did Honeysuckle move forward to thrash against the rune and topple it, deactivating it. Amera gestured that she did not intend to pay tempo to repair it, and put the card into her graveyard. William ended his turn.
“Hm, yes, I can see how that card would make my whole strategy work much better, I could certainly use another Morning Glory right now. Ikoro, and a new Kraken. Jonas, attack Gaia Rumble and Queen Honeysuckle.”
The gravitic masses surged out of the black pool in a terrifying display, becoming almost indistinguishable from one another as they struck. For the Honeysuckle, it was over quickly, but the Gaia Rumble's tough body held up to the smashing attacks for much longer before finally collapsing. William sighed, but his next move did not indicate any reason why he would have.
“I guess I asked for this sort of thing. Cast Wooden Hammer for my Modrun Tremor, and Violent Stampede at full power. Modrun attacks directly!”
The mole skirted across the ground, uprooting trees with claws and flinging them, causing Ikoro to counter this with multiple barriers and pitfalls before generating the last pocket of intense gravity to bring down the Modrun Tremor, dissipating itself in the process.
“Ah, I see,” Amera noted, as the Steady Roots now moved toward the pool. The battle between Modrun and Ikoro now empowered the Great Vine, and gravity tendrils clashed with strengthened xylem, causing waves of power to radiate from the game table and over the observers.
“Why is no one here even surprised at this output level?” Sharley wondered, as the clash finally died away, with the Steady Roots victorious. The Mammoth Trumpeter now charged into the black pool, sacrificing itself to strengthen William's Morning Glory. Another clash of vines and gravity ensued, with the vines once more emerging triumphant.
“I don't think I've ever met anyone that could take down two Jonas in one turn... I call another Kraken, and use Flash Ignition on my first, to attack your Morning Glory.”
Suzanne grimaced as the waves of pressure began again. The Kraken's body glowed with heat and power, and its tentacles crashed into the vines with such force that in some cases they were even severed by the blows. The blast of ink robbed William of his other Wooden Hammer.
“That's bad... come on, lemme draw another Stampede...”
What he drew was a Gaia Rumble, and he played it, before deciding it was time to make a move for Amera herself. The Modrun Tremor faced no opposition this time, building speed and knocking everything out of its way before crashing into the golden dome that protected the Sergeant. She moved two grid tokens to her tempo.
“I relied too much on Jonas. I should have repaired the Rune after all,” she noted, “Now I'll have to hope I get another.”
The card she drew made her smile, and mutter 'this will do', before playing a Sienna Startle. The Impel End that followed crashed into the chest of the Gaia Rumble, then imploded, crushing the creature into dust and causing William to make a choking sound as her influence rushed in to take the place of his own. Amera did not pause nor show mercy. Both of her Krakens lashed out at William, each impact causing his grid to spark and flicker.
“This is always the worst part,” he groaned tiredly, moving the tokens, “All this Tempo and nothing to use it on.”
“Maybe you will get your third Call To Arms,” Amera said. Her tone was neither mocking nor encouraging, making her actual intent difficult for even Suzanne to figure out.
“Yes!” William celebrated, upon drawing his card, “Modrun Tremor!”
Amera frowned and lifted her hand to her lips in contemplation as the Steady Roots engaged one of her exhausted Kraken. This was not something Sienna could stop, and that was what she had been counting on. The vine and Kraken fell within moments of each other, and the Modrun Tremor made another blistering charge at her grid, smashing its bulk against it with force enough to send a shockwave out through the room.
“This is crazy... how is everyone just ignoring this? This woman throws around more power than Arielle, and if the boy is matching her and it's not all her, that means there's two of them!”
“It comes down to this then, I draw Ardor or I don't.”
She flipped the top card of her deck into the conflict. Steady Aim.
“Yes!” Will exclaimed, as she waved the turn to him, “I got ya! Modrun, attack and finale!”
The Sergeant braced herself mentally, as the two huge creatures moved in, the first smashing into her last flickers of grid so hard that it flipped completely over them, and the second slamming into 'her', crushing her against the body of the first. Suzanne yelped at the impact, and had to steady herself to remember this was not real.
“Good game,” Amera-Lynn smiled, extending her hand to William. He shook it firmly, with a genuine expression of elation on his face.
“Thanks for that, your imagery is boss. I'm really glad I got to see it. Guess you can't play again right away though, huh?”
“I'll take a break and get some air first,” she nodded, gathering her cards. As she passed Suzanne, she tapped the KirriCorp employee on the arm. Suzanne correctly interpreted this as a sign to follow, and soon they were leaning on a wall nearby, in silence.
“If you were the one generating all that, why'd you make the ending so hard on yourself?” Suzanne finally asked.
“Because that's what happens when two giant mole things try to crush you?”
“But, I mean... is it supposed to be some sort of Army training, to do that to yourself? Are they making you do this? I... should explain. I'm actually an employee of KirriCorp, collecting marketing data for analysis. I know the levels of the psychic abilities that players have, and yours seems to be one of the highest I've ever seen. If the Army is putting you up to this--”
“You don't have to worry about it, the Army isn't interested,” the dark haired one said simply, checking her watch.
“What? Not... interested?”
“I reported it to my superiors back when it started happening but they didn't seem to care. I asked why, and I was told that was Classified, so I assume they already are working on this sort of thing in some other way and the 'card game' method doesn't interest them.”
Suzanne paused for a bit, dumbstruck at the woman's words, then trying to come up with a way of getting around them, if she was lying. She came up with nothing.
“But, aren't they concerned about it becoming widespread? We're worried. In fact the real reason I came here was looking for you, we've had rumors of someone using Black Carpet terrorizing other players, even 'draining their energy' somehow.”
“They probably don't really understand the scope of it, and I haven't explained it since. It's not something players talk about,” she explained, lowering her voice, “If you were a kid who had become a telepath through a card game, would you tell anyone really? If you had friends, you'd just try to get them to play the game instead so they would see for themselves. But wait... terrorizing people? Draining their energy?”
“I'm sorry,” Suzanne said sheepishly, looking down at the report on her Miero and considering it in reference to the woman beside her now, “Rumors tend to be a little exaggerated...”
“It's not that at all. I am not the person you are looking for, but I know of them,” Amera explained, further shocking Suzanne, “Unfortunately the only people I know who might even know where to find that person are the Dark Matter 'clan' over in Weymouth.”
“Dark Matter clan? Seriously? What do you mean by 'clan'?”
Suzanne's skeptical tone brought a smile to Amera-Lynn's face, and she indulged herself in a chuckle before answering.
“It's nothing too sinister. Three strong players that are somehow related to each other and have a bunch of younger players who look up to them. Sort of a fan club. Their leader keeps track of things like this for some reason. I met him at the last tournament in Boston. A young man named... Shu... I forget his last name, sorry, which is kind of strange because I think it was really short. Long, I think.”
“What? What was short, and what was long? You're confusing me a bit.”
“No, his name. It's something like 'Long', but not exactly, which is the part I don't remember. Sorry, I have a habit of trying to get everyone's name perfect since I have a pet peeve about my own,” she laughed. Suzanne laughed a bit nervously as well. This woman was clearly powerful enough to do what the rumors had claimed, and very hard to 'read', as well.
“I make you nervous?” came the thought, startling her. Amera's face bore the same small smile, one that now seemed curious since the telepathic exchange. Suzanne fumbled with an answer for a moment before losing her 'chance', and being subconsciously upstaged.
“Yes,” Sharley expressed clearly, “It is very important that I find the person, but you could easily be the person and are sending me off on a wild chase for some personal or military reason.”
“Consider this, then. We are not hard to find, and if the military really did care about this, they would have done something by now. We cannot possibly be the only person connected to them that has experienced this. Whether you trust me or not, you will have to keep searching.”
Suzanne pouted in frustration at the logic, causing Amera to laugh lightly again.
“Don't want to trust a snake? Is that it?”
Suzanne became even more flustered at the tease, but Amera spoke again.
“Give me a way to contact you. I will keep you informed about the military's interest if you keep me up to date on what exactly you are so worried about. You seem like you need all the allies you can get.”