Chapter 33 (or, “Over the Rainbow”)
Canberra woke up after Rikimo did, as the sun had already come up over the horizon. He sat up from his sleeping spot near the oasis, rubbing his eyes and looking for her. Sure enough, she was already awake, standing outside the shelter the Trio of Light Dogs had formed by sitting close together.
Canberra watched as Rikimo drew the sword she had at her side -- her navigator? -- and began to practice. He recognized the distinctive movements as kendo, the way she held the sword with both hands, the practiced movements he had seen on television time and time again. Except he had never seen it before in actual practice.
He waited until she had reached a stopping point, and then he made himself known. “You’re really good at that.”
She jumped, nearly dropping her sword. “Uh, thanks?”
“You’re welcome.” Canberra gave Rikimo a huge grin. “Did you study as a kid?”
Rikimo nodded. “That was a long time ago, though. Back when I had the money and time for such things.” She sheathed her sword. “We don’t have food for breakfast, do we?”
“That we do not.”
“We have water, though. Let’s drink as much as we can and then move on. We should try to make it to Disasterville by nighttime tonight. Do you think that’s doable?”
“With the way we traveled before, and how fast the Light Dogs are, I think you’re spot on.” Canberra walked back to the campsite and gathered the few remaining possessions he had. “Dogs, up!” he called, and the Trio of Light Dogs roused themselves, happy and panting, waiting for their master’s next command.
“Drink all the water you want from here,” Canberra said. “We won’t be back.”
They didn’t need to wait for another invitation. Within seconds, the Dogs were at the pool’s side, lapping up water. One jumped in, and the others followed, playing and splashing happily. Canberra sat by the edge and tried to drink the same way the Dogs had; it wasn’t working, and he didn’t have a glass to hold water in.
He turned to Rikimo and saw she had unsheathed her sword again and was dipping her scabbard into the pool. She completely submerged it, and then she brought it out again, completely full of water. She dipped it and began to drink, and Canberra had to look back down at the pool to keep from blushing.
She finished and passed him the scabbard. “You go for it.”
“Oh...um, all right, okay.” Canberra took the scabbard from Rikimo, dipped it in, and took a drink. The water was cool and refreshing, and it almost made Canberra forget they didn’t have any food. “If you hold onto your sword, can I take this full of water?”
“Do you think it will work?”
“It’s better than the other options we have right now.”
Rikimo nodded. Canberra did have a point there. “Let’s move quickly, then.”
Canberra whistled for the Dogs, and they bounded away from the pool and around him. He refilled the scabbard, then sat on one, holding the scabbard with one hand and the Dog’s collar fur by the other. Rikimo steadied her grip on a second Dog, being careful not to cut him with the sword.
If only she had designed a navigator that wasn’t so sharp.
They were off, riding through the desert once again on their way to Disasterville. Canberra led the way, the other two dogs trailing behind. Rikimo kept her eyes closed, the harsh sunlight against the sand too much for her vision. The sword, still out of its scabbard, dug against her side, and she remembered the hours put into practice, long ago. That had been with a wooden sword, but she had pressed on, wanting to get better in her training, to be the best, to survive.
She should tell Canberra. But not here, not now. Maybe if they made it through this mess. Maybe if she still trusted him then, if they were still talking. She couldn’t make any guarantees on life after this strange world just yet.
Two hours after they left, they stopped for a break. There was no oasis this time, and they shared the water. Rikimo was able to sheath her sword again after they ran out. “Let’s not stop again until we get out of this desert, unless we find another oasis,” she said.
“Sounds good.” Instead of staying stopped for a long time, Canberra got back on his Dog. Rikimo climbed back on, thankful the sword was no longer digging into her side. She wasn’t sure which she prefered: riding the Dog in the cold of a wintry night or here, on a desert’s morning.
She much preferred to be home, but that couldn’t happen just yet.
“Do you know where we’re going?” she yelled over the wind, her voice echoing out into the dry desert.
“The Dogs do,” Canberra yelled back. “I wish we still had a map!”
Me, too, Rikimo thought to herself. She could only wish the Dogs knew where they were going.
Thankfully, at one point they ran up against a plateau, and they could see a good portion of the rest of the land from there. Far, far away, Canberra and Rikimo could see the sea they had arrived at. There were volcanoes along the northern shore, and sandwiched in between everything was a small land that Rikimo had figured would be Disasterville. “How long do you think it will take us to get there?” she asked Canberra.
“Another day, but we’ll get there easily tomorrow. Do you want to break for a while?”
“Let’s see if we can find our way down this plateau, and then we’ll break.”
The Dogs ran along the plateau’s edge, wind rushing past them, throwing abandon aside. The desert sand faded to patches of grass, and soon, they were on the edge of a huge forest. A river ran beside the forest’s edge, and Canberra and Rikimo chose there to camp for the night. Along with the fresh water, some of the trees along the edge bore strange yellow fruit that Rikimo had never seen before.
“What are these?” she asked as one of the Light Dogs jumped up, returning with a branchful in its mouth.
Canberra took one of the fruits and smelled it. “I know this! It’s papaya. I had some as a kid all the time. You can cut it up with your sword, and we’ll have it for dinner.”
Dinner was an understatement -- Canberra and Rikimo ate as much papaya as they could, having not eaten anything else that day. The sun set before long, and the Trio of Light Dogs gave them shelter again. “You know,” Rikimo said as she finished off another papaya, “I would have never imagined that I’d be here like this.”
“It is strange to think about,” Canberra agreed, “how Digital Merge came to life like this.”
“Not just that.” Rikimo finally let herself relax against the Dog’s fur. “Sitting here with you, eating papaya. It feels good.” She paused, unsure how to say how she felt. “What I mean is, it’s unlike me to hang out with people. That’s all.”
Canberra blushed. “I wouldn’t exactly call this ‘hanging out.’ More like ‘survival and fighting for our lives, not to mention the entire world.’”
“But you have to admit, this is different than before. Yesterday, I was locked in a strange Digital Merge match that destroyed my castle and messed everything up. If I had only been stronger, the others would still be here with us, helping us.”
“Don’t blame yourself. Just blame the monster. You know, the guy in the suit whom you’re going to run through with your sword when you get a chance.”
Rikimo forced herself to look at it that way. Change didn’t come overnight, but it did come from a starting point, a choice to commit. Perhaps Canberra was the first step in that. “You know, my parents died when I was young.”
Canberra nearly dropped his papaya. “What?”
“You heard me.” Rikimo forced herself to go on. “I lived in Shibuya at the time. There was a huge fire. Before the war ended. I went to live with my grandparents and took kendo around that time. I always blamed myself. They died and I lived, you know? For the longest time, I believed I didn’t deserve love or kindness. It’s why I’ve given you the cold shoulder for so long and why I don’t do interviews. I play Digital Merge for the same reasons I practiced kendo: so I could be stronger.” She folded her legs in. “Being in that castle, in control, all alone -- that was what I had always wanted. But then that man came and took it all away, and you didn’t abandon me. I’m not perfect. But I want to thank you for that.”
Canberra’s face lit up. “I didn’t do it because I like you, in case you’re wondering. I did it because you’re a person, and people shouldn’t fall down snowy cliffs because they’re probably not going to survive.”
Rikimo’s head shot up at the word ‘like.’ “You like -- oh, I had totally forgotten all about that! After nationals, two years ago. I remember now.” She laughed. “You lying idiot. You don’t like me.”
Canberra felt offended. “How can you say I don’t like you?”
“Because if you’re saving me, you probably more than like me.”
“And I’m not there yet. And I don’t know if I can just tell you to wait on your feelings. Just...be my friend. That’s what I need right now. I need to figure out how to be a human being again, instead of someone who hates herself.”
Canberra felt hurt for a moment, but then he realized Rikimo had to learn to love herself before she could love anybody else. “Sounds good.”
They slept the rest of the night through, guarded by the Dogs. The next morning, they gathered water and more papaya and set out for Disasterville. The sun was high as the Dogs ran through the forest, stopping at a huge clearing with a reflecting pool. Canberra dismounted his Dog. “This looks familiar. Give me just a moment.”
Rikimo nodded, staying atop her Dog.
Canberra kept his distance from the pool. He knew the card’s flavor text well: “Rising from the Pool of Dreams, he embodies everybody’s hopes and wishes for the future.” Could this be it? The one card that could help them defeat this mad man once and for all?
He clapped his hands twice and prayed in front of the pool. Then, without warning, the pool shifted and Rainbow Ryuuzaki was hovering over the pool, in his long technicolor knight wardrobe, shining helmet and all. “Who disturbs my slumber?”
“It is I, Canberra Longshore.” Canberra held his breath. He had never encountered the card in person before.
The tall man seemed to smile. “You have done well, Canberra-ah. Let us conquer this world.”