Chapter 19 (or, “Queen of the Mountain”)
It hadn’t taken Rikimo long at all to amass her small collection of cards. It had been quite, if you had just known where to look -- or, maybe even more importantly, who to talk to.
The yuki-onna knew exactly which cavern to look in to find the Warrior of the Crystal Shard, sitting vigil and waiting for his master. He had, in turn, led the way to the Alpine Queen of Snow and her huge castle fortress, appropriately situated at the top of the mountain. She hadn’t even needed to go looking for the Frost Ninja; he had already been waiting there for her.
The huge castle had several rooms, long hallways, and expansive vistas overlooking the mountain. Large, elaborate snowflake details graced each pillar and door. The floor shone so bright that one had to be careful not to look down at it. Four hallways led to four identical wings, each spreading out from the throne room.
The throne room itself was magnificent, a hall fit for stories and fables of days gone long ago. The entire castle had been built in as part of the Alpine Queen’s card, so technically, it was supposed to be her castle, her throne. But since Rikimo was her master, she was the ultimate Ice Queen. A navy blue carpet led down the room, leading from the main doors to the throne itself. The room was made out in a hexagonical pattern, much like a snowflake, with four separate alcoves and the throne in the middle. Doors in each alcove led to the wings. Elaborate blue and purple stained glass windows were embedded in each wall, and a magnificent glass chandelier with star pieces and icicles hung from the ceiling. Despite the chilly appearance, the throne room was quite warm.
All four of RIkimo’s cards had their own thrones. They were smaller than Rikimo’s, but still sturdy and still proving of power and might. The Alpine Queen had taken the thrones from other rooms in the castle and had set them so that Rikimo and her cards could rule over the mountain together.
The Alpine Queen of Snow sat in the alcove all the way to the left. She was tall and regal, with a gem set crown adorning her long, blonde hair. Her dress was long and flowing, a dark blue with fur along the edges and pink details showing snowflakes, blustery winds, and tall castles like her own. Instead of slippers or high heels, she had on tall, imposing boots that hid beneath her dress.
The yuki-onna sat in the next alcove, her long dark hair swept back in a long ponytail. Her face was white and pure like the snow, her black eyes set ahead, steady and firm in her service. Her furisode had long blue sleeves with details of snowflakes on the hem and a dark black obi that reminded Rikimo of the night. Her geta were still wooden, but this same black color.
On the left of the yuki-onna was the Frost Ninja, dressed all in black with only his eyes showing. The card’s flavor text stated that nobody had ever seen the ninja’s actual face before, so nobody knew what he actually looked like. Or if he was actually a man. Rikimo just assumed as such, despite the fact that he didn’t say a word but only bowed at their first meeting. He didn’t have any shoes, just foot wraps that were painted the same black as his uniform. Rikimo had wondered in a fleeting moment if the floors had been too cold for him, but she had shoved that thought back into the recesses of her mind. For another day, she supposed.
The Warrior of the Crystal Shard took the last throne all the way to the right of the room. He was a burly man in true form, Caucasian, the match to the Alpine Queen. He wore a huge white coat trimmed with fur, dark pants, and boots made of sealskin. Nobody knew it save for Rikimo, for she had read this card’s flavor text -- the Warrior was in reality completely ice, and he could transform into a golem of massive size and strength with the proper gift card.
And the actual throne itself was reserved for Yoshida RIkimo herself. She sat, high and mighty, on the solid glass throne, a contrasting character in her dark brown and black. She did not have a crown on her head, but she sat with the boldness of a true queen, almost seen as floating in midair due to the transparent nature of the throne.
It had been four entire days since she and the others had come into this world. The Alpine Queen had servants who catered to Rikimo’s every whim. Food was delivered to the Great Hall in the east wing for every three course meal, each different than the last. And there were so many spacious bedrooms in the castle that Rikimo had trouble choosing which one she would sleep in.
Plus, the thick weather at the top of the mountain ensured that silly Canberra Longshore would never find her here. Rikimo was safe...and more importantly, loved.
“Tell me, warrior, what is the status of the mountain?” she asked, her voice booming and huge, reverberating off of the castle’s walls.
“The status of the mountain has not changed,” the Warrior said in his own deep bass voice. When he spoke, the entire throne room shook. Rikimo knew the meaning of his words: that the entire mountain was still covered in snow and battered with gale force winds. No way Canberra could get through here.
Nobody so far had threatened to question her judgement. She had simply told them when they had all arrived that they would be staying on this mountain until further notice. They had all agreed to this, as they were all Rikimo’s cards, but even the cards themselves weren’t as strict as some people thought. The Alpine Queen’s card hadn’t said, for example, that her castle had a trampoline room, or that there were at least fifty different kinds of chocolate available. The Warrior could bounce, but his card didn’t say that. It hadn’t been something Rikimo had expected -- she hadn’t expected any of this.
She could tell that the cards were hiding something, though. Once in a while, she’d see a strange look in the Alpine Queen’s eyes, or the Warrior would start to say something and stop himself. The Ninja never said anything, which hadn’t bothered Rikimo at first, but now it did seem to unnerve her.
Did they want her to leave the fortress? Did they know that this world had a deadline? Or worse, did they actually want her to fight against the evils of this world with Canberra and Rhiannon?
Over Rikimo’s dead body.
There was no way she was leaving this castle now. Not after she had finally found a place she belonged. She didn’t care if the world ended and Canberra disappeared, along with all of those other people. It might have been selfish, but after losing everything, now that she finally had something --
“Down, boy. I’m not here to fight.”
Rikimo had become so absorbed in her thoughts that she hadn’t even seen the Frost Ninja move toward the door. The man who had entered was the one who had spoken, his own voice echoing out into the hall. Surprisingly, the Frost Ninja had obeyed, freezing in place. Who was this man, and what kind of power did he have?
He looked at Rikimo with his dark eyes, standing there in his three piece business suit. ”Well, look who we have here? A little rebel who’s not satisfied with the world. Isn’t that right, Yoshida Rikimo?”
His Japanese was impeccable and made Rikimo felt threatened. Never before had she felt so threatened in her own tongue. She stood up from her throne. “How dare you challenge me here? How did you even get here?”
“Woah, woah, sit down, princess. You’re not the one I’m challenging.” The man held up his hands. “I’m just finding it interesting you’re holed up here. Are you just sitting, waiting for the end of the world?”
“Mistress Rikimo has requested that you cease your speaking,” the Warrior of the Crystal Shard said, and he stood up from his own throne. “If you continue your threatening words, we will be forced to take action.”
“All of us,” the Alpine Queen said, though still seated.
“Oh, so a challenge, then.” The man smiled. “You know, I like where this might go. What do you say, Rikimo? A little wager. You and me, a game of Digital Merge, you with your cards and me with mine. If I win, you come down from your little mountain. But if you win, I’ll keep this fortress for you. You can stay here with your cards until you grow old and die. What say you of it?”
Rikimo bit her tongue. Could he do that? Could he make this castle stay here forever? “Who are you?” she asked.
The man only smiled. “Call me your fairy godmother, little queen. Is it a yes or no?”