Episode 2 - But Above All Know Yourself
Heading down the corridor and around the corner brought Karaia Silvis to the door of the office. The woman standing there swiped a keycard, then pushed the door open to let the teenager in. Karaia immediately noted the difference in atmosphere. This office was cooler than the building, but slightly warmer than the dueling room. Two small workstations were set up against the walls to either side of her, and the room was wired to connect them all together.
The blond man sitting at the desk opposite the door looked up from his data pad and nodded to her, then gestured to one of the chairs at a workstation to her right.
“Please use one of those, I don't keep other chairs in here normally, and this may take a bit.”
Karaia simply nodded, still taking in the details of her surroundings. Dark blue carpet on the floor with green designs, clashing horribly, in her opinion, with the peach coloured walls. She pulled the chair across the carpet, to the other side of the desk, and sat.
“You should probably sit too, Suzanne,” the man continued, before setting his datapad aside, apparently satisfied with whatever information it had given him.
Suzanne Marshall nodded and took a seat in the corresponding chair on Karaia's left, without bothering to pull it any closer.
“I'll get right to the point, Miss Silvis. You know who I am, right?”
“Gene Kirricort, Division Head of KirriCorp's printed game section, son of CEO and owner Tyberius Kirricort who runs the company itself,” Karaia responded, her voice even.
“Good, introductions aren't necessary then. Did Suzanne tell you why I needed to see you?”
Karaia shook her head and said no, and at the same time, Suzanne clarified, “I haven't given her any details. It seemed best not to, she was with Arielle at the time.”
Gene nodded, tapped a bit on his datapad again, then said, “I need information on your avatar.”
Karaia blinked a few times, trying to discern if she had heard the man incorrectly, before finally replying without much thought, “I'm sorry... what now?”
“I have reason to believe that you have a single creature from your Fractal deck that you identify with and a representation of that creature in your mind. I need to know what it is.”
Karaia's heart began to race. She had not even considered the possibility that the KirriCorp staff actually knew anything about the 'power' she had, or the source of it. She felt cornered already. As usual, that feeling only made it harder to hide the effect of Turquoise Temper on herself. She could feel her 'other half' already shifting forward in her mind, to protect...
“Ah, there he is...” Gene smiled, making her trepidation even worse. The businessman seemed to notice this, and, in the greatest shock so far, extended his own strange power toward her, as a gently glowing light that manifested only on a separate level of her consciousness.
“Pleased to meet you.”
This was the equivalent of the resonance projected by the entity she could feel as part of the man. Yet her panic did not subside. This was too much. Not only did they know, the Division head himself had the same ability.
“What's going on?!” she blurted out, unable to keep her voice in its usual controlled calm. Gene looked confused at her reaction for a bit, before the light shifted, becoming soothing, and from Karaia's perspective, nudging her in a calming way.
“I'm sorry for surprising you like that,” Gene apologized a minute later, when Karaia seemed to have brought her initial panic under control, “Somehow Iris apparently expected you to be more comfortable with this than you were.”
The name brought instant recognition in Karaia's mind. The Luminaire creature, Iris Memoria. Now, she could sense that presence more directly. Warily, she let down her guard, and allowed her own to come to the fore, to match Gene's 'power'.
“You still didn't explain. What's going on?” Temper crackled, 'heat' rising around Karaia. It was a test. The Salamander spoke only to Gene's mind. To the Luminaire that had greeted them a few moments prior. Aiming to confirm that this was all real.
“I am collecting the data on the duelists who have manifested avatars,” Gene replied, in a tone that indicated he completely expected this to serve as sufficient explanation. It did not.
“Alright but what does that mean?” the Salamander prodded. Karaia was sitting up fully straight in the chair now again. She had previously shifted towards a relaxed state, but the cryptic nature of Gene's answer and the overall situation was causing her unsettled feeling to return.
Gene opened his mouth as if to speak, then paused, apparently to think on it. This took him another several seconds.
“Simply put, I don't know what it means. That's why I'm asking. We know that some duelists have these 'avatars' and can produce effects and visions in the minds of others when dueling. We know that Arielle's latent psychic ability makes her capable of doing it outside of duels. That's all.”
“Arielle? Why call me then, if you already have her?” Karaia asked, drawing back into her chair.
Suzanne Marshall was the person to give the answer, this time, cutting off whatever Gene had been about to say, and causing Karaia to turn.
“Because Arielle is not normal and any data we collect from her doesn't tell us anything about how normal people with this power use it.”
Karaia looked back at Gene now, and he nodded.
“Well, I don't 'use it',” Karaia said sharply, “I duel with it, I guess, but that's it... what else could you do with it, isn't it just my imagination running really wild?”
“Do you seriously think that's all it is?” Suzanne smirked. She said nothing more after that, leaving the room in silence for another full minute.
“What... kind of things do you mean?” the blonde teen finally asked, “Like, what can Arielle do that most people can't do?”
“I can't give you information on Arielle without her permission, obviously, but I can tell you what I can do,” Gene said plainly, “Iris calmed you before. I can do that usually. Your avatar... Turquoise, I believe we call it? I believe it was amplifying your physical reactions, in case you needed to run or such. Things like that. Have you had any experiences of that kind? Try to remember.”
Karaia fell silent, and seemed lost in thought, returning the room to silence once again.
“No... nothing I can remember,” she admitted finally, “I can sense some things, but...”
Gene looked disappointed, but only for a fleeting moment.
“I see. Well, please... Karaia? May I call you that? Keep us updated on anything strange. It is very important that we know what is happening here as soon as possible.”
She nodded slowly, still a little distrustful of the situation.
“That's all, then, you can go now,” Gene muttered, his attention already back to his datapad. Suzanne rose from her chair and opened the door for Karaia. The girl hesitated for a moment, trying to think of any question she could ask now that she had the chance, but nothing came.
She walked quickly down the corridor outside, and exhaled with relief when she turned the corner to see Arielle Dumas sitting in one of the long leather chairs outside the dueling room, apparently playing a game on her phone. Arielle stopped and watched Karaia approach, saying nothing until the older girl sat next to her.
“What'd he want?”
Karaia considered teasing her rival, as Arielle often did to her, but for once, decided that her chance to do that would have to wait. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back.
“He wanted to talk to me,” was the answer that floated into Arielle's mind. Karaia could sense the confusion that her 'avatar' caused in Arielle with that response, even without opening her eyes to see any change in expression on the younger girl's face.
“I don't understand,” came Nina's response, after a few moments. The Sky Pirate's thoughts reflected Arielle's confusion just as accurately as if Arielle Dumas had said the words aloud.
“Just like you and I are talking now. He... and Iris Memoria, wanted to talk to me.”
The Turquoise Temper was equally clear. There was nothing more to explain, really. Arielle, and Nina, seemed to ponder this for quite a while, before giving up on understanding it.
“Hey wanna go to the mall?”
Karaia opened her eyes, turned to Arielle, and found herself at a loss for words.
“My brother's coming to pick me up and I want to go, but he's not exactly fun to wander around a mall with,” Arielle continued, apparently oblivious to the fact that her complete change of subject had disoriented Karaia.
“Uh... I'm supposed to call Dad and let him pick me up...”
“So call him and ask him if you can go to the mall instead?”
Karaia blinked again. Arielle's forthrightness and perspective of the world could sometimes leave grown men completely unable to reasonably refuse. Karaia found herself in the same situation now. She had no reason to go home, and apparently was not even scheduled to duel for the day.
Arielle flashed her most winning smile. “Pleeeeeeeeease?”
“Okay okay fine,” she sighed, pulling out her own phone, “You're really pushy, you know that?”
“I know! That's how I get what I want,” Arielle grinned.
Four hours, two pizza slices and two ice cream sandwiches later, Karaia would be forced to admit that she did not regret going along with Arielle's whim. By now, though, the allure of the mall had given way to the annoyance of early afternoon crowds, and she was about ready to head home.
“Okay, Arielle, it was actually fun, but I... hey... are you listening?”
Karaia poked the dark haired girl to snap her back to reality, but Arielle simply muttered, “Someone's dueling.”
Her eyes were closed, and with a little effort, Karaia could tell that the psychic prodigy child was in fact reaching out with her ability into the distance, seeking something that was beyond Karaia's own range. She sighed.
“So let's go watch!” Arielle exclaimed, grabbing Karaia by the wrist and setting off in the direction she had discerned from her 'scan'.
“But why...?” Silvis groaned, though she was not fighting the pull. It took them less than a minute to reach the small hobby shop where the two had normally bought their cards before KirriCorp had come to their city.
“Hey people actually duel here now! That's cool,” Arielle noted, as she entered with Karaia in tow. For a long time, though this small shop had been one of the few places in this part of the city to get good trades on cards, the owners had not made it a very comfortable place to actually have duels. Now, there were at least a few tables set up, apparently for that purpose.
Karaia braced herself for what she expected to be an annoyingly enthusiastic reception, but none came. Nearly every Chaos Fractal fan in the small store was focused on the event that had caught Arielle's attention. A duel between a tall, athletic, dark skinned man, and a considerably younger black haired boy of Asian descent.
Arielle did not even bother trying to get close enough to where the two were sitting, immediately 'tuning in' on the resonance of the players instead. Karaia groaned at the complete lack of caution, but found herself with little choice other than to do the same.
“Call another Jonas, and a Ghost Jellyfish,” the younger boy declared. The Submarina swirled a dissonant vortex over the form of the elder duelist as it entered the conflict, robbing him of one creature he could have called. Neither Arielle nor Karaia could tell what the actual card he physically had been forced to discard, was.
“Exhaust my Vibra to destroy your Shine Missile,” the youth continued. The 'weakest' of the Grand Serpents was still able to deal with the glittering Polaroid, but the extreme flash of light released when the Shine Missile's form was dissipated, stunned the huge bearlike creature near it, as his opponent declared this.
“Use Shine Missile's effect to exhaust your Ursa Rumble.”
Karaia was already attempting to calculate just what the Gravity-Earth player was aiming to gain from this exchange. His older opponent was clearly playing a power based deck, with the considerably powerful Gaia Rumble looming prominently over the shoreline where the Vibra had just done its work. There were two other Radiance creatures present. One of them was a second Shine Missile. The other, a powerful but difficult to use creature from the Aztotl tribe.
“Seven thousand power already on that one...” she sighed. Gaia Rumble was one of her least favorite creatures to have to face. Suddenly, a ringtone by some artist she did not recognize, broke the relative silence in the shop. The elder duelist's voice could be heard a moment after the sound stopped.
“Hello? … yes this is Niels... who is this? … uh... now's not really a good time, can you call me back in half an hour?”
“End turn. Niels, huh?” the other chuckled.
“Niels Crimson,” he affirmed, drawing his card, “Didn't I mention that before? I normally do.”
“When you said 'Crimson' earlier, I thought you were talking about the card,” the other said, “Or I'd have introduced myself then. Name's Dylan Worth.”
“Oh, okay,” Niels noted, “Hmm... better play it safe I guess. Call Mammoth Trumpeter, full effect.”
Arielle and Karaia felt Dylan's energy, which had been almost imperceptible before, spike just enough to be noticeable, as the imagery of the great mammoth rumbling into the conflict played out in their minds. The card Niels revealed was already known to them both. The Aztotl warrior was riding in atop the charging mammoth. Phoenix Alicia.
“And call Alicia, activate Crimson Diana's effect, and attack your Ursa Rumble.”
Alicia leapt down from the Mammoth's back in a perfect dismount, landing and kneeling before Crimson Diana, Eternal Queen, ruler of the Aztotl. Alicia's hair flared, and the 'ritual' to transfer her blazing fighting spirit to her Queen was completed in a moment. Diana turned, and rushed straight for the massive bear.
The Ursa Rumble would have been a match for the Crimson Queen if she were on her own, but with the power granted by her subject, Diana's combat ability was now doubled in every way. Speed, agility, and power, all pushed far beyond her normal limits. Her double ended glaive-like battle spear scored on the bear again and again, until its roars were finally silenced and Diana stood triumphantly atop her kill. The entire exchange lasted only seconds in reality, but seemed to drag out for those who watched within the shared mindspace of the duel.
In contrast, the 'battle' between the Vibra and Gaia Rumble that followed, consisted of nothing more than the not-so-Grand Serpent being stepped on.
This brought the power of both of Dylan's Deep Thought creatures up to four thousand, but still, neither of the Jonas would be a match for Diana or the Gaia Rumble.
“Was it a trap?” Nina wondered, directing her thoughts in Turquoise Temper's direction, but Dylan's next move indicated that if there was indeed a plan, it certainly was not as simple as luring the two strong creatures into attacking. Temper returned an equivalent of a sigh as his response, reminding Nina that the Mammoth Trumpeter was probably unexpected. Dylan had played two Ink Balloons and cast Antlion Trap, destroying Niels Crimson's second Shine Missile, and, in effect, causing one of his Jonas to be exhausted.
“Ghost Jellyfish, attack Phoenix Alicia.”
The young Aztotl found herself beset by stinging tendrils and disorienting swirls a moment later, but stabbed at the Submarina until they both fell. Niels smirked, and focused mentally to make the imagery that accompanied his choice, clear. One consumed tempo would cause the Aztotl to be surrounded by a circle of flames, then suddenly vanish. The Ghost Jellyfish, on the other hand, was dragged away into the ocean by a large gravity wave.
“Five thousand each,” Niels noted, referring to the power of the two Jonas, “End?”
Dylan nodded, and Niels drew his card.
“Call Regain Dalia, and Alicia again...”
The Flora bloomed instantly, directly over Niels, spreading petals to the sun and recharging the elder duelist's Grid defenses. Alicia leapt down from the budding giant flower, and knelt before Crimson Diana once more.
“Cast Slipstream,” Niels continued, “Diana, attack Jonas!”
The Aztotl monarch's power surged around her again, and she charged the shore, where the swirling gravity form that the Deep Thought underwater was projecting, floated menacingly. Jonas' projection shifted and lashed out, its power practically 'cutting' grooves into the sand and waves as Diana weaved between the gravitic tendrils, severing them with her glaive until the projection dissipated completely with a horrible gurgling sound. Diana retreated quickly now, causing the other Jonas, now even stronger, to radiate a powerful emotion of fury. The Slipstream had enhanced her stamina. It would not even be able to strike back at the Queen in revenge, on Dylan's next turn.
“Gaia Rumble attacks you directly,” was Niels' follow-up, and the colossus surged forward, directing its force into the water where Dylan Worth's form was ever so slightly visible. The Mammoth Trumpeter followed suit, bringing Dylan's defenses down further.
“This guy's not very strong after all...” Nina noted, echoing Arielle's sentiment about the Gravity-Earth duelist, as Niels ended his turn and leaned back in his seat, readying his creatures again.
“Maybe he didn't draw well.” This was the only response Temper gave, reinforced by Dylan's flicker of irritation at his next card. He could do nothing other than summon two more Ink Balloons and let his remaining Jonas take out its fury on Niels Crimson directly, impacting powerfully against the Grid.
“If he didn't have any Wormhole he should have waited longer and tried to take his opponent out in one shot instead of trying to power up Jonas,” Nina argued. The Salamander did not offer any counter argument to this, Karaia had already turned her attention back to the finish. There was no real chance of a win from Dylan now.
“Gaia Rumble, attack. Crimson Diana, finale!”
The girls both braced for what they were used to from players like Crimson. Players like themselves, who could jolt an opponent's mind with their own power during such a finishing attack, but the man did no such thing.
“Good game, man,” Niels simply said, offering his hand. Dylan looked at the offered hand for a moment, then shrugged and shook it.
“Well, he's a polite person,” Arielle's brother noted, startling both Karaia and his own younger sister. Arielle spun and gently punched her brother in the stomach.
“I told you not to sneak up on me like that!”
Aaron Dumas feigned injury, apologizing profusely before laughing and messing up his sister's short black hair, causing Arielle to pout and try to hit him again.
“Hey, up for another game?” someone in the crowd called out, “Everyone wants to play the new guy, you know how it is.”
Niels looked up from his shuffling, and shook his head.
“I gotta get going. Someone's supposed to call me and give me directions somewhere.”
“Speaking of that...” Karaia noted, taking out her own phone.
“We can take you home, Karaia,” Aaron reminded her, “We should be going now too, anyway. Certain people have a paper to write and only got me to bring her here by promising to spend the afternoon on it.”
“I'll do it,” Arielle insisted, pouting more. Aaron raised an eyebrow, then poked his sister's forehead, beginning to list the number of times she had said such things in the past. Karaia sighed, then turned back around, to find that Niels Crimson was staring at her. Their eyes met, and her perception shifted, giving her the distinct feeling that it was not 'only' Niels Crimson, but the 'other Crimson' staring back at her as well.
She quickly looked away, but her attempt to convince herself that it was all in her head only reminded her of Suzanne Marshall's words that morning.
“Do you seriously think that's all it is?”
By the time she had managed to make herself look around again to check, Niels was already moving toward the counter to buy a book that she could not see the cover of. He left without making any further contact with her, but the feeling haunted her for the next half hour, until finally, she felt the need to ask about it, on the way to her home in Aaron's car.
“That guy today... Crimson... seemed pretty strong, didn't he?”
“I guess so,” Arielle answered from the front passenger seat.
“He didn't seem like the other duelists, I mean,” she hinted, projecting just enough energy to prod at Arielle's senses and get Artillery Officer Nina's attention.
“You don't hafta poke me, I know what you mean,” Arielle complained. Karaia sighed, but Arielle continued, clarifying, “And so does Aaron.”
“Why does everyone know what I don't think they know?!” Karaia blurted now, clearly flustered, “Why am I the last person to know that people know what they know?”
“I dunno... maybe you should pay more attention?”
Karaia groaned and sank back in her seat, muttering, “You annoy me, you know that, right?”
Aaron interjected before Arielle could answer, “Arielle annoys everyone, not just you.”
“He could have pushed it and flattened that Dylan guy easy at the end. He held back. He's not someone who's just starting to be able to do this and messing with it,” Arielle said, suddenly becoming serious, “He's just as good as the people we test against at the KirriCorp office. I think he might be better than us. Maybe he's in town because of them. They won't tell us though, so we'd have to find him if we wanted to know how good he really is, and I didn't get to see where he went or anything when he left.”
Karaia sat there with her mouth open for half a minute before finally saying, “I see... so really you're annoying like that on purpose.”