Chapter 22 (or, "Climb Every Mountain")
Canberra was in good spirits.
Not only had he found all of his cards --with the minor exception of Rainbow Ryuuzaki -- but he had also found a bunch of the cards Storm had brought as well. These included her Puddle and Sen Tohr from before, as well as her own Glass Girl, the Bold Fish, the Granite Golem, a ray of light that was simply called Ray, and Conductor Conductor. So far, their card hunt was going quite well.
Now they made their way across the plains, grasses waving in the fields. Jaci was still riding on Growl's back, as Canberra himself was riding on the back of one of his Light Dogs. Jason and Rosa were with Storm on the back of Sen Tohr...or, rather, Rosa was on the back of Sen Tohr while Jason was the only one of the group walking. Canberra didn't know why Jason preferred walking, but while the others had been going for quite some time and were tired from all of their trekking, Jason could keep going. It's as if the boy were superhuman; he hadn't broken a sweat.
They all walked together for days, collecting cards and working together as a team. Jason and Rosa would make sure where they were, using a program one of their friends had put together. Canberra would teach Storm how to play Digital Merge and talk to her about strategy during their off times. And Jaci...Jaci did get a bit better at not being scared all of the time. That was certainly a perk. She even tried to be helpful, going to help collect supplies and organizing their party.
It was a few days into their search that Storm pointed on the horizon. "Canberra? Have we seen that before?"
Canberra squinted into the distance, trying to make out the shape he saw. To be honest, it kind of looked like Fuji-san. "I think it's Fuji-san."
"That was going to be my guess! But I didn't think Fuji-san was in Tokyo."
"Well, maybe it is in this version of Tokyo."
"That's not Mr. Fuji," Rosa said, the name of Mount Fuji rolling off her tongue in a strange way. "That's just a mountain."
"Rosa." Jason's whisper was so loud, everybody in the group could hear it. "They mean Mount Fuji."
"Oh. Lo siento. Canberra, why are we making such a big deal about this mountain?"
"Because there shouldn't be one here." Canberra thought for a moment. "If there's a mountain here, then there might be some cards on it." And then he realized that most of Rikimo's cards had to do with ice. That was probably where her cards were, and if her cards were on the mountain, then she probably was as well. "I think we should go to the top of it."
"Are you crazy?" Jaci asked from her position on top of Growl. "That mountain is huge. We've only got a limited amount of time lift before the world ends. We need to get back to Erika and start planning a strategy to beat this thing."
"But Rikimo might be up there." Canberra's face was firm. "And we need her to be a part of this, as well. Without her and her cards, I don't know how we're going to win against our enemy."
"And Dvorak's a pain in our asses," Jason noted. "The more help we get against him, the better."
Rosa glared at Jason. "Watch your mouth!"
"Hey, don't look at me. I'm just telling the truth." Jason shrugged. "We need to all be together if this is going to work. Erika might be the one chosen to save the world, but the rest of us need to be present and accounted for. We don't want anybody getting stuck in limbo or anything."
Canberra had never heard that word before. "What's limbo?"
"If you don't fit the world's plan of what stays and what goes, or if there is a discrepancy between realms, the object or person in question goes to limbo," Rosa explained. "It's a temporary place where things can go, and they can be brought back out again, but it's hard." Her eyes widened. "Dios mio! If Dvorak has been implementing his plan, what's to stop him from sending us all to limbo right now?"
"I think he's having too much fun playing with us," Jason noted. "He could do that, but he'd rather see us suffer. That's why we need to stick together as a team. We can't let Dvorak split us up any further than we already are. Got it, team? Don't wander away from the group, even if you take somebody with you. Either we all go or we all don't go somewhere."
"And right now, that somewhere is that big mountain thing that looks a lot like Fuji-san," Storm said. "Are we going to go to the mountain or not?"
"If it means we find Rikimo, then I'm for it," Jason said. "All of that about sticking together and shit."
"Yo tambien," Rosa added. "Me as well."
Jaci sighed. "I'd rather not go all the way up the mountain," she said, "but if I can ride on Growl the entire time, then I guess I have no reason to complain."
Canberra grinned. "Growl, what do you think?"
The red dinosaur grinned at Canberra. "I think that's a T-rex-iffic idea," he said in a pun only Jason got.
"It's settled, then." Storm cheered from her position riding atop Sen Tohr. "We're going to the mountain!"
They settled into a line -- Canberra in the front, Jaci, Storm, and Rosa in the middle, with Jason walking behind Sen Tohr and taking up the rear. Jason knew you are never supposed to walk behind a horse like this, but Sen Tohr was sentient and knew Jason was back there, so no harm was done. When they went at a faster pace, Jason borrowed another one of Canberra's dogs and rode beside him, hanging on to the fluffy dog's white fur coat to stay stable.
They went thundering through the land, across the plains and to the tundra, solid ground with trees nearby, Their speed slowed considerably when they started encountering snow for the first time. They stopped under the shade of a huge pine tree to eat lunch, and Storm looked up. No longer was the mountain something looming in the distance; now, it was just over their heads.
"How long do you think it will take us to climb the mountain?" she asked Canberra as she went through her cards one more time.
"Hmm." Canberra scratched his head. "I don't know exactly."
"Should we have brought food?" Jaci asked.
Jason shook his head. "We'll find a way to make do. Rosa and I can't exactly replicate food with our communicators, but we can change one thing into another. We can make the snow into drinkable water, for example. And the plants on the mountain can be changed into berries and leaves safe for us to eat."
"No rest for the weary." Canberra stood from his seat. "Let's make our way up the mountain. If we need to stop, we will."
They circled the mountain until they found the start to a path, following it up at a slight grade. At first, the going was easy. But as they started to climb farther and farther up, Canberra noticed that his breath was getting shorter. He looked at Growl and saw that, while he was still moving at a regular rate, Jaci and Rosa both looked tired. Even Jason seemed to have trouble focusing on the situation.
Canberra tried to focus as they climbed the mountain. Would Rikimo really be up here? He was taking a gamble. If only she had gone with one of Jason or Rosa's friends; that way, they would know for sure if she was up here or not. As it was, he would be shooting in the dark...but it was the only lead he had.
Before long, he saw a shorter road that went into the mountain instead of up it. "Let's go this way," he said, and he led the crew through the mountain itself. There was a long, winding path that finally led to a set of icy stairs. Canberra disembarked his Light Dog and tested the stairs; they weren't slick at all, despite the fact that they were made out of ice. "We'll have to walk."
"Can't we go the other way?" Jaci asked, but she begrudgingly gave up her spot on Growl to walk up the stairs.
They walked single file for a while until they ducked through a glass arch and literally found themselves in the middle of the mountain. The huge crater was made of complete ice, with a crag at the top underneath the dark sky. Up on the crag was a huge castle, seemingly made out of ice.
"If she's here, she's in that castle," Canberra said. "That's where we need to go."