Chapter 23 (or, “Rikimo vs. Dvorak”)
Rikimo stared down her opponent from across the throne room. Whoever this person was, they had no clue who they were challenging. How dare they come against her and her castle, even though he was promising to keep this world this way forever? “I accept,” she said with words as cold as the fortress she inhabited.
Her cards rose out of their seats, ready to defend against this newcomer. The Warrior grabbed his Crystal Shard, ready to strike down whomever would stand in his way. Neither the Frost Ninja nor the Yuki-onna moved other than getting out of their seats, but Rikimo knew they were ready as well.
The mysterious man narrowed his eyes at her. “Who will you be sending first?” he asked, his voice strong and sure.
Rikimo didn’t lose any face. “I send the Alpine Queen of Snow.” With those words, the Queen stepped forward just slightly. “I will save the rest of my points until my first turn.”
This was Rikimo’s usual strategy: cold and calculating. Her mind already went through what she needed to do to beat this foe. The Alpine Queen of Snow had the Swift ability, which meant that she could immediately go to a problem in Disasterville and help to solve it. The yuki-onna had the same ability, and in a normal situation Rikimo would be able to play that card next turn, then play a gift card with it to accelerate the speed of the Warrior and the Nnija. She could get all four heroes to her first problem within one turn and not even have to bother with a vehicle. This would give her a huge lead, one that her opponents always had troubles working around.
The stranger was deep in thought. Rikimo had a feeling he didn’t have any clue who she was. And then she realized: this man hadn’t been at the beach the day they had all arrived in this strange world. Who did he think he was?
“I send out the Baby Flame,” he said, and with next to no warning, the Baby Flame card appeared in the ice fortress. RIkimo had to shield her eyes to keep from going blind. The Baby Flame card was exactly that: a baby all lit up in flames, hovering in midair. It had the Stubborn ability, which meant that one of Rikimo’s cards wouldn’t be able to go to the same problem as the Baby Flame during the first turn. Never mind that. She’d just hold off on the Warrior, or find a way around it. She hadn’t yet understood how gift cards worked in this world...when would she get some of her own? Hadn’t that idiot Canberra gotten one, like, their first day out?
Maybe she should have stuck with the crowd for a while. At least to get some gift cards.
“Now, what should we do about problem cards?” she asked. Normally the players had cards that represented problems in Disasterville, and they would take turns sending heroes to each problem. The person who solved the problem’s requirements the fastest won that problem and got a select number of points, depending on that problem’s difficulty. Rikimo had planned for a problem card of any difficulty, and she remembered how they had beat the Psycho Kitchen card using Canberra’s Glass Girl. But she didn’t know how this would turn out if there were no problem cards to solve.
“Oh, I don’t think we should worry about problem cards.” The man had a smirk on his face, and Rikimo, for the first time, truly sensed malintent. “I think this should just be one on one.”
Rikimo’s head tried to calculate as much as possible with this new information. Her Alpine Snow Queen fight against his Baby Flame? She would still win in a card situation like that, even though Digital Merge wasn’t meant to be played this way. The Alpine Queen’s points were higher than the Baby Flame’s. Even though one would think fire would melt ice, technically the Alpine Queen was a water card, and nature didn’t play out the same way in this card game.
Heroes were supposed to work together and solve problems, not fight against one another in battles that never ended.
This was all wrong.
She heard a loud crash, and then, the doors behind the man opened with such force that they slammed against the walls. The entire castle shook with the impact, and even Rikimo turned to see who was entering what was now her fortress. A huge Granite Golem stood in the doorway, its fists bared, and Canberra Longshore was riding on its back.
Seriously? When was she going to be able to shake this boy?
“I can take care of this myself,” she almost yelled, but the mysterious man spoke before she could. “Well, well, who do we have here?”
“I know that voice!” Rikimo watched as one of the foreign kids from before -- the tall girl from South America or something -- stepped forward in her revealing purple mimono and pointed at the man. Her demeanor was rude and loud. “You’re Dvorak, aren’t you? I heard you speaking through Jason’s boombox.”
“Damn skippy,” the shorter kid from America said as he moved next to the other girl. “Aren’t you supposed to be, oh, I don’t know...sitting high and pretty on some throne somewhere while you wait for us to collect our cards?”
“Jason, shut up,” the girl said, then spoke to him in what had to be English. Rikimo couldn’t catch most of it, but she heard that mysterious name again. Dvorak. Where had she heard that before? Maybe one of the new kids had mentioned it in passing.
The man was unfazed by the newcomers. “If you excuse me, we were in the middle of a game. Baby Flame, attack her Alpine Queen!”
Rikimo considered what to do as the Baby Flame started to burn bright. With no warning, it started wailing -- as all babies do -- and then shot flames from its body right toward Rikimo and her card. She gritted her teeth. For someone who usually just put cards onto a board, she would have to be unusually verbal.
“Dodge!” she yelled. Digital Merge cards had a power element, but she had no way of knowing how strong a card’s defense was. It was probably better to do that. Sure enough, the Queen’s speed-based ability kicked in, and she moved to the other side of the room without any effort, grabbing Rikimo and taking her with her.
“Yoshida-san,” Canberra’s voice echoed out across the room, “stay away from him! He’s dangerous!”
Rikimo didn’t let herself get too comfortable. She got down from the Alpine Queen’s arms and stood her ground. It was her turn. If anybody was going to bring down this fortress, they would have to go through her first. “Alpine Queen, counter his attack,” she whispered. “Do not aim to destroy but rather to preserve.”
The Queen knew exactly what Rikimo spoke of. She raised her hands and cast a spell over the battlefield, freezing the ground around them. With one flick of her wrists, she struck the Baby Flame right in the center. Her ice shards melted on impact, but they struck with such force and speed that they sent the Baby Flame tumbling to the ground, where it melted the frozen ice there as well.
“What is your intention here?” That was Jaci, actually, who had now entered the room and was holding on to the American boy for stability. “This isn’t a real game of Digital Merge. This is tyranny, is what it is. I refuse to recognize this as an actual game.”
The Spanish girl said something to Canberra that Rikimo couldn’t identify, and then he yelled it out to her. “Wait until next turn, and they’ll add a dice roll to the Queen’s power. You’ll beat him then!”
“Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary.” The man didn’t move a muscle. “Baby Flame, obliterate them.”
Instead of attacking the Queen again, the Baby Flame turned toward Canberra and his new friends, The Baby Flame started to glow again and then fired right toward the door. Rikimo barely had time to shield her eyes. Was this a joke? Would this man really cause another card to hurl fireballs at another human? Yeah, this match was so over and done.
The light cleared, and Rikimo forced herself to see the carnage. Surprisingly, a huge Granite Golem was standing in the door now, protecting Canberra and one other girl. Rikimo identified her as the young girl who had won a contest to come to the event -- Yamazaki, was that her name?
But those were the only two humans. Jaci was gone, as were the two foreigners.
The suited man smiled. “What were you saying about a dice roll?”
“What did you do with them?” Canberra yelled, his normally steady voice shaky.
“Oh, you’ll know soon enough. After all, you’re headed to the same place they went. Baby Flame, attack!”