Chapter 18 (or, "Hana, Dul, Set")
Rifka woke up the next morning to the sound of Rhiannon fighting with somebody down the hall.
She stirred from where she had been sleeping, underneath one of the desks in the high school. Jen was still asleep next to her, curled up using his baseball cap as a pillow. Rifka tied her hair up into the one braid she had it in, made sure her furisode was still in one piece, then slipped through the classroom, past the desks and out the door, purposely leaving her wooden shoes behind (they were hard to walk in anyway).
The hallway was long and dark and winding in front of her. Rifka put one foot in front of the other, her bare feet padding against the cold tile. She had to listen carefully to tell where exactly Rhiannon was and remembered the events from last night -- finding Disasterville and Latasha, the moles attacking, and them retreating into the high school to try and sleep for the night. Komari had been put in charge of making sure the moles couldn't get into the school, and if Rifka had slept throught the night, that meant Komari was doing her job appropriately.
Then who was Rhiannon talking with, if it wasn't Komari?
She finally caught wind of their conversation as it was happening. It wasn't being held in either Japanese or Russian, so Rifka pulled out her communicator and switched it into translation mode. The communicator picked up the language as Korean -- must be Rhiannon's fluent -- and started displaying the text they were saying in Russian in real time. Rifka smiled, grateful for the translation.
"Miss Noh." That was LaTasha. "You have to realize that this town is in danger. We must attack the Moles of Molten Lava before they get through your failsafe."
"And you have to understand that we don't stand a chance against them right now. The Moles of Molten Lava is a rather strong card, and we'll need a level of at least four if we are able to stand against them. Rifka and Jian Liang can make the dice roll go in their favor, but there are two of them, not six like when we went against Psycho Kitchen. They'll have less power. We need more cards."
"I haven't seen any other cards since I've been here. Nothing air and nothing earth for your Chinese friend. I'm telling you -- we have to take care of the Moles."
"And I'm telling you, as the creator of this card game -- as your creator -- trying to defeat the Moles right now is a horrible idea. We've got to either stay here until we find other cards nearby or evacuate and look for more cards."
"If you try to evacuate, the Moles will just follow you. They won't stop until they get you. It's face them or be eliminated. Kee Moh, do you realize what this means?" Rifka didn't know what Kee Moh was until she realized it must be Rhiannon's real Korean name. "I know that there's something bigger going on than what you're telling me. There's another world where your family is. Somebody -- whoever our real villain is -- he or she put them there. You have to find the cards to rescue them. The power rests in me, in the cards you created. You said all of that before, but you never told me about the other world."
"...you're right. I didn't." Rifka noticed that Rhiannon was sounding uneasy.
"If we lose this battle against the Moles, we'll all go to the same world your family went to." And Rifka knew what this meant -- if they lost any battle from here on out, they'd be pulled into limbo, unable to help Erika with her guardian mission. If Erika herself got pulled into limbo without Dvorak, that meant Dvorak could make Erika's world into whatever he wanted, sealing it on the chosen day.
She whipped out the messaging function and put a message in. "Tama, you awake?" she texted before she realized she had texted Tama in Cyrillic.
Thankfully he answered back, even though in Japanese. "I'm here, Rifka. What's going on?"
"Don't lose against villain cards, or else you'll go to limbo. Protect Erika at all costs." Rifka had to write it still in Cyrillic, but she hoped he could translate.
"Understood. See you soon." Rifka smiled. Tama had gotten her message. She sent a similar one to Rosa, hoping she would be able to translate as well.
"What are you doing out here?"
Crud. Rifka looked up and saw both Rhiannon and LaTasha standing over her. LaTasha was still dressed the way she had been before, with a bandana in her hair and a pinwheel behind her ear like a flower. "I could hear you down the hall," she said in Japanese, switching off her communicator.
LaTasha crossed her arms. "You're one of the people who has been sent, right? To save the world."
"I guess that's what you could call it." Rifka stood up. "There aren't any other cards, right? If LaTasha's our only chance, we'll have to try with what we've got."
"The Moles will still get a dice roll," Rhiannon said, a look of worry still on her face. "I'm not sure this is going to work --"
"But if we don't try," Rifka insisted, "then we'll all get sent to limbo and that won't accomplish anything. Jen and I will do our best."
LaTasha gave Rifka a thumbs up, a sign she recognized from Jason giving it a lot. "Sounds good to me! Why don't we get out there and do something about this then?" And without consulting Rhiannon, she walked right past and down the hall, toward the staircase that would lead to the school's lobby.
Rhiannon sighed behind Rifka. "I can't get her to do anything. Perhaps you'll have better luck. Can you wake up your friend and meet us downstairs? I don't want to wake the others this early."
Rifka nodded and separated from Rhiannon. When she got back to the room she had slept in, Jen was sitting up, putting his cap back on. "I was wondering where you went," he said, getting up and giving her a quick hug.
It surprised Rifka, but she reciprocated. "We need to get downstairs. LaTasha and Rhiannon are waiting for us. We have to fight against the moles now."
When they finally got to the bottom floor, LaTasha and Rhiannon were waiting for them. "We'll take care of this here," Rhiannon said. "On the count of three, I'll open the door, and LaTasha will attack. Rifka and Jen, you'll roll right beforehand. Does that make sense?"
Rifka nodded. "Switch your communicator to the randomizer function," she said. "That will randomize the power and feed it to LaTasha to use as a boost, instead of an actual dice roll. It's just like what we did with Tama before."
Jen nodded, then paused. "Does it have to be a random dice roll? Or can we just divert as much power as we can to the card? I could probably write a program to do that."
Rifka's eyes widened -- Jen could most certainly do that. "Go for it, but not now. If we survive this, we'll do that next. I say we stay in this school for the next day, send out signals to find where the nearby cards are, and have Jen work out some coding."
Rhiannon nodded. "Coding is best done alone so one can focus. Right now, we need to focus in a completely different way. LaTasha, Master of Turbines, face-off!"
With those words, LaTasha picked up the rake she now had by her feet and assumed a battle stance, and Rifka noticed something had changed about her. The air in that very room seemed to spin around her, as if it only existed for her. It made it a bit difficult to breathe, as if she was in a fog. She watched with her hand on her communicator, ready for the randomizer on Rhiannon's request.
"On the count of three..." Rhiannon said. "Hana, dul, set!"
The door flung open, and LaTasha grabbed the rake she had been holding and pointed it at the door. Rifka felt the breath leave her body as the air was sucked out of the room, diverted the way LaTasha was sending it. She almost forgot about the roll, and tried to yell for Jen to roll as well, but there was still no air in the room.
She grabbed for Jen's arm, and he understood, and they both activated the program on their communicators and pointed them at LaTasha. She glowed bright yellow for a moment, and then the wind increased in speed and power, coming from nowhere to add to her stamina. Rifka didn't know how LaTasha could control all of this wind. Perhaps this was the power of the cards Rhiannon had created.
It lasted too long, and then, the balance was restored. Rifka hit the ground and struggled to get her breath back. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and, taking a ragged breath in, looked up at Jen. "You okay?"
"Look outside." That was Rhiannon, and as Rifka got back on her feet, she looked out at Disasterville. The town square had changed overnight, covered with holes and changes in the concrete caused by the moles. There were holes and dirt everywhere, as well as spots where the concrete had melted through. And laying on top of the concrete were several small moles, knocked out, belly up.
Rhiannon herself spared a smile. "I think we got them."