Chapter 36 (or, "Presents")
They both disembarked on the east side, right in front of the elementary school. Canberra ran in with his Dog and they quickly checked all of the hallways, doors, closets, anything they could find. Three hours later, they hadn't found any gift cards.
"You could have asked for my help," Rikimo said as they came back out of the school, exhausted. She put her sword down. "It's not like I had anything better to do out here for the last three hours except wait for you."
Canberra took three steps outside the school and collapsed. Rikimo wasn't concerned until he didn't get back up. "Canberra-ssi?"
"It's just...I really wanted to find these cards on my own..." Canberra leaned against his Dog, smoothing back his spiky hair. "Is that so much to ask? I wanted to do this, and I feel helpless now, but I felt even more hopeless back at the town hall. Rhiannon's working on the code, and Erika gets to save the day. I'm just Canberra for now. It's weird being just Canberra. I've never had to be just Canberra before."
Rikimo sat by him, leaning against his same Dog. "You're trying too damn hard. Stop." It made her think of the castle she had lost just a few short days ago. "Sometimes we work all our lives for something and it doesn't work out. But you're still human. You're still breathing, aren't you?"
"I know." Canberra was silent for a moment, looking up into the fading sky, sun setting for the night. "We should get to the other school before it gets to be much darker. That man could attack at night and we won't be prepared. We have to find these cards, if they're here in this world."
"I believe gift cards are here." Rikimo reached into her pocket and pulled out two. "I got these after we battled Dvorak. They were next to me when I woke up."
Canberra took a look. They were indeed gift cards, but not the ones he needed. "The Paper Fan of Beauty and the Magical Coffee Cup. I like these! They both add power, so we can use them against Dvorak. Why didn't you tell me about them before?"
"Because we had more pressing issues at the time." Rikimo shrugged. "It is what it is. Come on, stand up. Be strong. Let's go to the high school."
Canberra willed the last of his strength and got back onto his Dog. He focused all of his concentration onto holding onto the Dog as it ran forward, bounding across town again. Rikimo and her Dog were ahead of him, and he was aware of the irony: he had led her several times during this trip, and now, she was doing the same for him.
He considered confessing to her again. But that would have to wait until they got back to the real world. If they ever got back to the real world.
The high school itself towered over them as they arrived. It was in the style of a stereotypical Japanese high school, with cherry blossom trees around it in continuous full bloom, the picture of the first day of school. Rikimo approached the side entrance near the lockers and halted the Dog. "Canberra?"
"Still behind you." His Dog stopped short, and he carefully disembarked. "I'm sorry. I'm still not feeling this. I should have had you help in the first place."
"From now on, how about we make that a regular thing?" Rikimo wasn't about to forget how they had made it all the way here together. She took him by the hand. "We're a team, Canberra. Whether either one of us likes it or not."
He blushed, then nodded. "All right. You seem to know what you're doing."
"I just want to make it home. Come on." She pulled him into the school, leaving the Dogs outside. The school was eerily quiet, and Rikimo walked through the locker halls and went up the stairs in her normal shoes. "Look. We've been through a lot in the past few days, okay? We're both lying idiots. We both thought we could take care of things by ourselves, but that's not true. It's only because we've stuck together that we've made it this far. You made me see that when you came after me in the castle. I've never done a damn thing for you, and you've still stuck by me. You should have let me die back there."
"Rikimo-chan, I wouldn't have let anybody die."
"But we've both seen people we know disappear. That Storm girl whom looks up to you. Kiiroka Jaci. The others. There were so many of us when we arrived, and now it's just you and me. But we have to make it." Rikimo stopped and thought out loud to herself. "If I were on top of a high school...I would be on the roof!"
She found the staircase that led to the roof and climbed it, Canberra behind her. The door was locked, but Rikimo pulled out her sword. "This sword is a navigator equipped with the latest virus-fighting technology," she told Canberra. "I think it can break down a door."
He had to smile at that. "Go for it."
She swung, once, twice, with the precision she had gained through years of kendo practice. The hinges sliced off, and the doorknob hit the ground next. Rikimo pushed on the door, and it fell foward, no longer deadbolted. "Done."
Canberra put his hand on Rikimo's shoulder. "You really are something else."
Instead of being cold, she gave him a quick hug around the shoulders before progressing through the doors. "It's been a long time since I've heard a human being say those words and mean it. Thank you."
The roof was flat, and Canberra could see out over Disasterville from his standpoint. Chain link fences blocked off the roof from potential jumpers. It was much like the roofs he had seen in animated productions, how the isolated student would eat lunch up here, away from all of the others even though it was against the rules to do so. Canberra wondered if Rikimo had been one of those students in the real world.
"Search it," Rikimo said. "Every nook and cranny."
Canberra overturned old boxes and looked through the air conditioning unit, but didn't see any gift cards. He was about to give up again when Rikimo called out, "Found something!" When he rushed to her side, he noticed she had a small box in her arms, pink in color. "This was in the far corner," she said. "It's got Korean writing on the lid. Can you read it?"
Canberra glossed over the hangeul. "Property of Noh Kee Moh. This is Rhiannon's box!"
"Maybe even the box she used to put her original Digital Merge cards in." Rikimo opened the box, and there was a hefty deck of cards in there with the Digital Merge logo on them. She overturned the first one, and sure enough, it was the Bottle of Water, a gift card. "We found them!"
Canberra breathed a huge sigh of relief. "We need to check to see if the Book of Infinite Knowledge and the Sword of Infinite Light are in there or not."
Rikimo shuffled through the cards quickly. "Yep. Both here. Mission accomplished!"
"I'd agree with that sentiment."
The moment Canberra heard that voice, he reached back into his happi coat and pulled out his deck of cards. He grabbed Rikimo's hand and slipped the cards to her. "You get out of here," he told her. "Run for it. Jump off the roof. Do whatever you need."
"Whispering last instructions?" Dvorak smirked from where he was sitting atop his own Sen Tohr. "How cute. I'll give you five seconds to run before I come after you, and you'll lead me right to where the others are."
"I wasn't whisepring last instructions." Canberra turned and gave Rikimo a quick kiss on the cheek before letting go of her. "I was telling her I loved her and that I would see her again."
Rikimo blushed beet red, but rolled with the scenario. "Same here." Instead of heading for the normal exit, she grabbed the chain link fence and scrambled up it. She whistled long and low, and since she now held the Trio of Light Dogs card, the Dogs came running for her. In an instant, all three were up the side of the building. Rikimo scaled over the fence and jumped, landing on the back of one of the Dogs.
"Are you sure I should be doing this?" she called out.
Canberra nodded. "As long as you make it back to the town hall, we'll see each other again! I promise! Get going, Rikimo!"
She gritted her teeth, buried her face into the Dog's neck fur, and muffled her scream. The Dog followed its owner's last command and ran after the rest of its pack, back down the wall and away from the high school.
Canberra faced Dvorak alone. "I might not be able to do much on my own," he said, "but I'll do everythign in my power to stop you."
Dvorak couldn't help but laugh. "Which is exactly nothing."
He didn't even have to move. Canberra was simply ghosted out of reality, slipped through the hole in the universe's framework before he could say or do anything about it. He found himself glad that he had given Rikimo all of his cards before he realized he was sitting in the green room again. All of the kids they had lost along the way -- Henry and Sierra, Nathan and Kyara, Jason and Rosa -- were there, plus an older man with white hair.
"Canberra!" called out a familiar voice, and Canberra barely had time to move before he was tackled by Storm Yamazaki.
He pulled her into a hug. "Everything's all right. Everybody is together again. Dvorak is going after them, but they have a plan."
"I hope they do." Isabel was seated at the head of the table, where Rhiannon had originally sat during their presentation. "Welcome to limbo, Canberra. For now, you can relax."
Canberra sat his head down on the table. "If it were that simple, I would."
He paused as Storm threw an arm around him again. "Everything will be okay. You said so yourself. Believe in it. Believe in them."
Her smile was too infectious to say 'no' to. Canberra tapped her on the head. "You're right, Storm. Let's keep that spirit up."