Chapter 29 (or, “Double Edged Sword”)
Rikimo had been so focused on the Digital Merge mock battle that had been going on in front of her that she had totally missed more pressing issues.
During the battle, as Storm and Canberra had come into the main hallway, the balance of weight had shifted in the room. The attacks between the Baby Flame and Rikimo’s cards, plus the sudden duel between the Alpine Queens had tilted the room in their favor. And castles made out of glass ice are beautiful to look at, but also fragile. The chandelier had been the final blow, smashing against the ground and sending ice shards everywhere.
The situation was now revealing itself in the wake of Storm’s disappearance. The castle floor was crumbling, and without anything but snow to support under it, the entire castle would be shards in a matter of seconds.
Rikimo wasn’t paying attention, too wrapped up in the man with the suit and his strange Digital Merge battle. But the Frost Ninja was.
He sprinted forward from his throne and grabbed Rikimo, jumping out of danger just as the ground collapsed beneath them. The collapse left a gaping hole, and Rikimo could see all the way down to the bottom of the mountain if she looked through it.
She backed away, skitting away and hiding behind the yuki-onna on the remaining floor that was left. Yoshida Rikimo wasn’t scared of anything in the public eye, but in reality there were many things she was scared of...like heights. There was a reason she had never been on a field trip to the Tokyo Tower. She had always found a way around it.
She took stock of the layout. The Alpine Queens were still locked in battle several meters away, and Canberra had escaped from the suited man’s grasp. The rest of the battle had thankfully been forgotten, the rest of the helpers sidelined. Rikimo watched as Canberra called back his heroes, reverting them to their card forms since they were no longer needed.
“Well, isn’t this sweet.” The man smiled and stepped toward the hole in the floor. “I won’t even have to worry about destroying you. This castle will take care of it for me. Have a good few minutes of the rest of your life.” He jumped in and disappeared, falling at what had to be the speed of light.
Well, great, Rikimo thought to herself. She reached out and yelled, “Heroes, return!” All of her heroes disappeared and turned back into cards, which then flew back into her right hand. She glanced back over at Canberra, across the hole from her. “Hey! Longshore-san!”
Canberra turned. It was the first time Rikimo had spoken to him in a long time. He would treasure this moment, except this was an emergency situation. “What?”
“The hole -- this place isn’t stable -- we have to move!”
Too late. The supports around the castle shattered, no longer supported by the ground. The pieces of glass fell from the ceiling at amazing speed, and Rikimo stood rooted to the broken ground of her own castle, the place she had longed to call home forever, unable to move, unable to comprehend the loss. She only moved when there was a flash of white, and then she was on the back of a Light Dog, who bounded across the hole and towards Canberra.
He was on the back of another Light Dog, headed toward the entrance. “Let’s get out of here?”
Rikimo nodded and clung to the Dog’s neck fur. The Dog bounded after Canberra, its owner, and together they ran through the castle’s front gate, dodging ice shards as they went. She ducked her head as they made their way out into the great unknown, back onto the snowy mountain.
The wind whipped through Rikimo’s hair, and she struggled to find a good grip on the Dog’s neck. No longer protected by the castle behind her, but still with her cards by her side, she was on the run again, a vagabond, homeless. And that man who had come unwanted into her castle had started this trouble and ruined her home.
She would find a way to bring an end to that man, no matter what. After all he had destroyed...after all the destruction that had happened in her life...she would take it all out on him. She swore that on her cards, on the fur on the back of the Dog’s neck, on stupid Canberra Longshore. Was he still up ahead, on his own Dog? She couldn’t tell in this storm.
She kept her eyes closed, feeling the Dog bound through the snowdrifts down the mountain, the same way she had came. She wasn’t sure what her next step was. Go after the man? Try to find the other kids? Deal with Canberra? She still had her cards, but to go after the man right now was madness. The cold was numbing her fingers, and she was sure she could feel the snow through her boots. This was a nightmare, just like the ones she had had when she was a kid, back when --
The ground slipped beneath her, and the Dog tripped, throwing Rikimo from his back. She tumbled off, the snow breaking her fall, dropping and rolling until she came to a complete stop. The air was quiet...too quiet. She listened for the Dog, for Canberra, for anybody, but she couldn’t hear anything. Were they lost? Where was Canberra? Wasn’t he supposed to be in front?
She raised her head and looked around, but the snow blinded her, made it impossible to see. Everywhere she looked, there was snow. There was a small horizon line, a dark grey sky, and flurries all around her. The cold that had once been so comforting now stung her cheeks. This was how it would all end.
She thought about yelling out for Canberra, but why? He was long gone. And as she struggled to her feet, she felt the snow shift below her again, and her security was thrown to the wind. There was no rock below the snow, only more snow, and then open air. The snow collapsed under her weight, and she scrambled for a foothold, tipping over the ledge and falling toward who knew what.
Her right arm jerked, and she thought she heard her name, but it could have just been an echo. She realized there was no solid ground beneath her feet. She was falling. Or was she?
There it was again, her voice, thrown out to the wind. Rikimo tried to look up, but still ony snow. She looked behind her and finally saw that her right arm was dangling from a cliff, and below her torso, nothing. From a thread, precarious, she waited between life and death. Whatever held her trapped to the rock formation squeezed, and Rikimo realized it had to be another hand.
“What are you doing?” she screamed even as the relief hit her. Canberra hadn’t left her. Canberra wasn’t an idiot. Canberra had grabbed her just before she had fallen over the cliff.
“Saving you,” she heard Canberra yell, and she realized for the first time she could hear him. He had to be right above her head, even though she couldn’t see him. “Give me your other hand!”
“Rikimo, just do it!”
Canberra never called her by her first name. It had usually been Yoshida-san, even in competitive play. They had never been close enough to communicate on a first-name basis. But desperate times called for desperate measures.
She lifted her other hand and felt it connect with Canberra’s; then, she felt him pull, and she lifted just a bit. She turned and saw the craggy rock behind her; she pushed off with her feet to give herself some leverage. Canberra held her hands, then her forearms, then her elbows as he swung her up and over the cliff. Rikimo found her balance again, pausing right on the edge to catch her breath.
“That was close --”
The ground slipped again, and Rikimo tripped, but Canberra grabbed her arms at the last second. He pulled her in, both balancing equally on the edge. Rikimo felt Canberra sink into the rock. “I’m gonna pull, and I need you to trust me.”
Rikimo closed her eyes and braced against the snowstorm, certain the wind would rip her from Canberra’s arms...but he held her steady. Even though the world around her was changing, even though she didn’t feel stable on this cliff, Canberra had her. She forced her eyes open and found his own staring at her. surprise and regret and vulnerability mixed with the certainty that he wasn’t letting go.
He mouthed something, but Rikimo couldn’t hear it. Then, the wind blew against them, and the two fell off the cliff, hurtling toward the ground. Rikimo gripped Canberra’s shoulders, her only thought being that if she died this way...at least Canberra hadn’t let go.