Chapter 12 (or, “Rikimo and the Yuki-onna”)
Forget Rhiannon. Forget Canberra and his attitude. Forget the fact that the world had disappeared. To Yoshida Rikimo, she even preferred the world this way, without the technology and tablets and millions of people in Tokyo getting in her way.
This -- this world was perfect.
She faced the tall, imposing mountain ahead of her as it towered over the landscape. She had seen it far away, from the sand, back when she had been crossing the desert and traveling as fast as possible away from the others. The mountain was foreboading, a challenge. Rikimo loved challenges. Plus, the icy mountain meant she would probably find a good number of her cards around here, which would ensure her safety in this new world with new rules. She wouldn’t have to group up with those civilians to search for weeks. This would take days, especially since she only had four heroes.
If the cards were alive...then why did she even need the others? The cards were all she had anyway.
She had been observing the mountain, determining the best way to climb it. When she had gotten closer, she had noticed that there seemed to already be a pathway winding up it. Not as much of a challenge, but Rikimo was still up for it.
She didn't have a bag to shoulder, just her trusted sword by her side in its sheath and her empty card pack on her belt. The snow started to crunch beneath her boots, and she got to the base of the mountain, beginning her ascent.
Canberra Longshore. She remembered the day they had met, when he had strutted across the stage at the Hokkaido Digital Merge Slam event. He had been a good few years younger then, and so sure of himself in this new card game. That was before the change, back when Rikimo played every card game she could get her hands on. Her first thought had been: this was an event in her hometown of Hokkaido, and yet, why was this brash Korean boy here? Back then, Digital Merge hadn't quite been accepted as an East Asian card game yet, and a lot of people in Hokkaido had their reservations about it because its origin was foreign.
Never mind that the Koreans and Chinese had helped Japan win the war and restore peace to East Asia. We still weren't going to play their card games.
But Rikimo had purchased the Water Obsession starter deck and had played a couple of games with her friends. Since the game wasn't well known in Hokkaido yet, she had figured she would be a shoo-in to win the slam...until Canberra had shown up in his fancy happi and bright headband. He had a smile on his face that nobody could wipe off and an infectious attitude that ensured everybody else had smiles on their faces.
Everybody except Rikimo.
"Hey! My name's Canberra Longshore," he said to Rikimo in perfect Japanese. "You can call me Canberra. I don't mind." And with that, he had single-handedly won the event, using his Trio of Light Dogs to stop the earthquake on his mat before Rikimo could even think to get to it.
It had upset Rikimo, but then, her world had changed. Suddenly, she had more important things to focus on than battling people in card games. By the time her world was reorganized, she had the money and the time to dedicate to it, and dedicate she did. She saved what cards she could from her Water deck, but figured that cards like the Bold Fish and the Puddle weren't cool enough to be her new heroes...literally.
That was why she had drawn herself to this mountain in this world. Because, in her time of need, she had felt as cold as these mountains. And she had chosen cards for her deck that had properly reflected that. And those cards had rewarded her by being loyal, going where she needed them to to save the day and get her the right gift cards.
She climbed over a rocky cliff and found herself on a plateau overlooking the world she now inhabited. Far off in the distance was the beach she had come from, as well as the ocean as far as the eye could see. To the right was more ocean, and to the far left were dense forests with lots of foliage. Leave that to the other groups, though it was a great view.
Rikimo didn't care if anybody ever found her.
She had worked her way up through Hokkaido's ranks, her new ice deck the perfect match for someone in such a cold region of Japan. People started to know her as the girl who wore black to all of her matches and stayed calm and collected the entire time. They also knew she never gave interviews, just showed up, played, and went home after winning the trophy.
Her wins solidified her a place in the Incheon All East Asia tournament...and it was there she had met Canberra again. He was the same Canberra he had been in Hokkaido, only taller. She remembered how soundly he had beat her in their younger days with his spirit deck, skipping around the board with his Trio of Light Dogs. This time...this time she would beat him for good.
But then, the unthinkable had happened. Canberra had played Rainbow Ryuuzaki, a rather regular hero in its own right that counted as every element, immune to every element as well. By a stroke of crazy luck, Canberra had also received the Book of Infinite Knowlege and the Sword of Infinite Light, both gift cards and weapons that only applied to Rainbow Ryuuzaki. He then combined a Dual Wield gift card -- traditionally an Earth card -- to let Rainbow Ryuuzaki equip both the Book and Sword, giving Rainbow Ryuuzaki almost God-tier powers. He was now able to solve problems from anywhere on the board with immense energy.
And Rikimo hadn't had a chance in hell.
She had slinked out of the playing hall in Incheon without a word to anybody, taking the next plane home to Sapporo. From then on, she had avoided every event Canberra had registered at like the plague, only going to events where she knew she would win. Thankfully Canberra couldn't be in several places at once, and her rank continued to rise.
Soon, she was the second best player in East Asia...after Canberra himself, of course.
As long as she avoided him, she wouldn't take the top spot. But Rikimo never wanted to be the best. She only wanted to be as good as she could be. And if she couldn't beat Canberra, then that was where she would stop. It did mean that her opponents' skill level had stagnated quite a bit, but players like Takakura Kouji were a challenge. And that Tomoyaki Erika girl...Rikimo hadn't had a chance to play her just yet, but she was looking forward to the opportunity.
It wouldn't come in this world, though. As long as Canberra Longshore was here, he wouldn't stop looking for a chance to challenge her, which meant she had to stay away.
The plateau led to another sharp incline, and the wind got worse. Rikimo wondered for a moment if one of Rhiannon's cards could possibly be up here before something blocked her vision and she had to stop walking.
When she looked up, she noticed this person was familiar. The person standing in front of her wasn't an actual person at all. The Japanese legend said the snow woman -- the yuki-onna -- would stand against those who went against her. She haunted those who came to her mountains and snowy fields; with one cold kiss of death, she would take their souls.
But this yuki-onna was different, because she was Rikimo's card. Rikimo could tell because, even though the woman had long dark blue hair, she also wore a long white kimono with light blue designs that matched her card illustration. It was a design Rikimo would recognize anywhere. With only having four hero cards, Rikimo felt connected to each and every one of them.
"Hello," she said, polite and not knowing what else to say. What do you say to a playing card that has taken on its own life?
The yuki-onna stared down at Rikimo with her slanted eyes, and then, she gave a simple, full bow to Rikimo, acknowledging her as her owner. And Rikimo tried to remember to breathe in the cold, keeping her dark brown eyes on her card. This was not the time to be emotional, not now, not as she had finally found the place she belonged.
Let Canberra search for his own cards. As long as Rikimo was on this mountain, she had found her home.
She didn't need any of them, anyway.