“I don’t want to be me anymore! I wish I could someone else! Someone better! Someone… someone loved...”
Not many people know, but Ichiro is a regional champion at a lot of card games. He’s mastered them all. He loves it. Even if everyone at school and at home thinks he’s dumb and empty headed, Ichiro loves the strategy and competition. And the cool cards. He keeps trying to get Taishi to play with him but he shows no interest at all. Which is weird for a nerd like him, he thinks.
There’s a new one come in recently. Ichiro is still learning there, but he’s already near the top of all the local shops. Ichiro is still collecting all the cards he wants. The prebuilt decks are all well and good and competitive, but if you wanted consistency, you had to play around and find something that matched up. And so he wants to pick up some new cards before class starts. Luckily, he’s got plenty of time.
Taishi sighs, waiting outside for Ichiro to pick up his cards. He grabs Taishi an energy drink from the counter with his cards and hands it over as he comes out, with a smile and Taishi takes it gratefully. He always looks exhausted in the morning. He spends too much time staying up and studying. Taishi even takes Ichiro’s bag so he can open up his packs as they go.
“You waste so much money on those things,” Taishi says as they walk. “When we can barely afford heat and light.”
“You know I’d pay your bills for you,” Ichiro replies, flicking through the cards.
“That’s not the point. Put those away, come on.”
Ichiro smiles and nods, putting away the cards in his bag and taking it from Taishi as they head in the school gates. Nanao is waiting with Ryoma and Kyotaro. He loves spending his time with the Defence Club. Of course, the card games clubs have all tried to invite him to join, but nothing is more important than his club. Than Taishi.
“Hey, Taishi,” Ichiro says quietly as they’re heading to class. Taishi glances back at him. “Do you want to go somewhere after school?”
“To play card games? Or to the bathhouse?” Taishi replies.
“Somewhere else,” Ichiro says quietly. “Somewhere… somewhere just for us…”
“You’re a strange one, Ichiro,” he says with a smile.
Taishi takes his seat and Ichiro can’t say anything more. Why can’t he say it plainly? He’s been trying for so long. Almost since the moment he met Taishi. Why’s it so hard to just ask him on a date without Taishi thinking he’s weird? He sighs and heads to his own seat. Taishi probably wouldn’t want to go on a date with him anyway. That’d be weird right? They’re best friends. It’s make that awkward. He wishes he could stop thinking about it though.
Taishi has to stay back to talk to a teacher after class at lunch. He promises he won’t be long and Ichiro can go ahead. So Ichiro heads up to the club room to open up more of his cards. He smiles and sits, waiting for the others as he opens up packs and sorting cards. Maybe it is childish and a waste of money, but what else is he going to do with his allowance. Taishi won’t let him spend money on him and if he doesn’t spend it on things that make him happy it’s just going to be lying there untouched and there’s not much point in that. Especially not at his age. If all he wants to waste his money on is trading cards, isn’t that better than wasting it on drugs and drink and women like some of his older cousins?
He sighs, pulling out a another pack and flicking through. Maybe it is a waste, but he wants to enjoy himself while he can. He flicks through the cards absently. He’s done this long enough to know what cards he wants and doesn’t without too much fuss. But he pauses. There’s one he hasn’t seen before. He frowns, tilting it slightly. Ichiro has never seen or heard of this card type. And he keeps an eye on new card releases.
It’s a pretty card, through. If Ichiro could get more to work with it, he could definitely make a deck. The card art is of a young man in white robes and heels. There’s a hood over most his face, set against a moonlit snowy landscape. It’s super beautiful. They never put that much effort into cards that aren’t super rare.
“Stop gawking.” Ichiro yelps, sitting up straight and glancing around for Taishi. He’s still alone though. He frowns and glances around. It wasn’t quite Taishi’s voice though, was it? A bit like Taishi but not. “Down here.”
Ichiro frowns, tilting his head and following the voice down to the card. The figure has moved, arms folded, glaring up at him even with his eyes hidden under his hood. No way no way no way! The card sighs and shifts his weight, tucking his arms behind him.
“You’re alive,” he whispers. “Or I’m seeing things. Oh, are you a publicity stunt?” He grins and turns the card around slowly. “The card is a computer screen. You’re a super flat screen and somewhere there’s the actual computer running you.”
“You’re annoying already.” the card sighs. Ichiro frowns, turning the front back to face him. The figure tilts his head. “We’ve met before…”
“I’d remember meeting a talking crd before,” Ichiro says. “It’s like an anime or something. Oooooh oh oh oh, is that what this is? Are they doing an anime for this game? Is it gonna have talking cards as partners? That’s so cool.”
The figure frowns. “It’s not an anime but that’s about the gist of what’s happening here.”
“Are you legal to play?”
“Against others like me.”
“Cool! So so so, your card doesn’t have a name.”
“Luna Kiss,” he replies.
The card lights up and Luna Kiss, and the rest of his title, prints itself across the top. That’s so cool! “Luna, that’s so cool! I have a space deck, you’re going to fit right in.”
“If you say so, Ichiro.”
Ichiro blinks. He hadn’t introduced himself, had he? Maybe they have met before. Before he can ask, the door opens and Ryoma and Kyotaro are coming in. Ichiro smiles and tilts his card for them to see.
“Hey, hey guys, look how cool this is!”
“It’s nice, Ichiro,” Ryoma replies with a small smile.
“The can’t see me,” Luna says. “Only you and others like you can see me.”
Ichiro frowns. Only him and other like him? That wouldn’t make sense if it was just a flat screen? So, this car is really magic?! He’s got a magic talking card?! That can’t be right, right? That doesn’t make sense. Does it? Magic isn’t real, right?
“You’re fussing over those cards again, aren’t you?” Taishi sighs as he and Nanao come in.
Ichiro tilts his head. Taishi and card definitely sound really similar. Luna is glaring from under his hood. If no one else could see him, he definitely couldn’t just tell them there’s a talking magic card.
“What’s the matter, Ichiro-kun?” Nanao says as Ryoma sets drinks in front of them.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” Ichiro laughs, waving his hands.
“What have you go there?”
“I’ve never seen a card like him before,” he says, showing him Luna. Nanao frowns, taking the card from him as Taishi leans over. “Senpai-”
“He looks grumpy,” he teases.
“I think he’s pretty,” Ichiro argues.
“It’s a card,” Taishi sighs. “And you can’t even see his face.”
“I don’t understand all the fuss about card games,” Kyotaro yawns.
“I played when I was younger,” Ryoma says. “Ata was rather good. But I’m not sure they’re that pretty.”
Somehow the conversation ends up focused on card games and Ichiro sets Luna down on the table to listen and watch. Taishi keep glaring at the card every now and again but other than that it’s peaceful. As peaceful as the club normally is, at least.
“Taishi,” Ichiro says as they walk from the bathhouse together. “If I told you something weird, would you believe me?”
“Let’s go on a date,” Taishi says. Ichiro’s head jerks up and Taishi smiles back awkwardly. “Let’s go on a date, Ichiro.”
“Really?” he says, staring back at him. “You really-”
“Is that weird?”
“No. I really really really want to!”
“Ichiro-kun,” Nanao calls from ahead of them. They glance up. Ryoma and Kyotaro have gone. Have they been talking that long? Ichiro smiles up at Nanao. It’s not unusual for him to want to walk them home, he likes to baby them, but this feels weird. “You should throw away that card now.”
“Luna Kiss,” he says. “Throw him away. You need to get rid of him.”
“You are strangely attached to that card,” Taishi says. “You’re treating it strangely.”
“Get rid of him.”
“But, senpai!” Ichiro cries, shaking his head. “I can’t! He’s special! He’s-”
“I know,” Nanao says firmly, taking a card from his own bag. Ichiro can only stare as Nanao lifts the card and the figure within the frame waves back at them. “But you need to get rid of him.”
“How come you get a magic card and I don’t?!” he argues.
“Hello,” the card laughs.
“You can’t handle this fight, Ichiro-kun,” Nanao says. “It will bring you nothing but despair.”
“What are you talking about?!” he cries. “Senpai, you know I’m not good at this. You have to explain.”
“There are consequences, Ichiro-kun,” he says, shaking his head. “You can’t just take without risking anything in return.”
Ichiro huffs, shuffling through his bag to find Luna Kiss again. The boy in the card glares up at him and Ichiro turns to card to face Nanao and his partner. Suddenly this feels a lot more like an anime. Is Nanao supposed to be his rival? He definitely doesn’t think he could survive having Nanao as his rival.
“What’s he talking about, Luna?” Ichiro says quietly. He glances at Taishi, who’s watching silently with his eyes narrowed. “You’re not dangerous, right?”
“Not inherently,” Luna replies. “But he is right. You should throw me aside. It’s dangerous.”
Ichiro huffs. How dangerou can a talking magical card really be?! It’s just a card.
Nanao sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Ichiro knows that look. It’s the ‘you’re not listening and now you’re going to get punished’ look. Even so, Ichiro clenches his fingers against Luna’s card and draws it to him chest. He’s not letting him go. Luna came to him for a reason, right?
“Alright,” Nanao sighs. “If you’re not going to listen there’s no choice. If they’re finding new players, it’ll be starting soon. Has it really been nearly a year, already?”
“Time flies, Nanao,” the card laughs.
“You should listen, Ichiro,” Luna says. “These guys are no joke. You can’t play against them and win.”
“I’m a really good player,” Ichiro huffs. “Magic or not, a card game’s a card game. And I’m super super super good.”
“If that’s the case, little Alice,” Nanao purrs, eyes darkening, “let me take you one a wild drip down a dark rabbit hole.” He holds out his card. Ichiro frowns but copies the movement, holding Luna out to match. “Unlock.”
The world goes still and grey and Ichiro glances around. Taishi folds his arms and Nanao smiles over at him. There’s a tense moment between the two while Ichiro turns his attention to the strange world coming through the fog. Like Binan, but not. The sky is pitch black and noxious looking yellow gas rolls across the floor. The cards in their hands glow and Ichiro copies Nanao when he releases it. The glowing cards form people and after a moment, Ichiro realises it’s Luna and Nanao’s partner.
“What’s going on?” Ichiro whispers.
“You can still back out now,” Luna says, standing next to him. Ichiro shakes his head and Luna sighs, offering his hand. Ichiro takes it without hesitation. “Luna Kiss, Messenger of Happiness. At your service, master.”
Across from them, Nanao’s partner takes his hand, kissing his knuckles lightly. “Taiju, Rose Prince, master.”
“Be careful, moron,” Taishi says quietly.
“Last chance, little one,” Nanao says. Ichiro shakes his head. “Open.”
Taishi and Binan vanish. They’re left standing in a strange rocky land, covered in crumbled and toppled building. Like a post apocalyptic world. And there’s still that hideous yellow fog rolling over the floor.
Suddenly, Luna is sweeping Ichiro from his feet and taking off into the sky. “We’ve got to move.”
“What- what’s going on?” Ichiro cries, clinging to Luna’s shoulders.
“You’re as good a player as you say?” he says. Ichiro nods. “Then there’s no point just letting them win.”
They land inside one of the empty buildings and Luna sets him down. Ichiro doesn’t understand at all but he gazes out the window at the strange world they’re in. He doesn’t understand at all but he supposes he’s going to have to figure it out.
“There’s a competition, once a year,” Luan explains. “The best players get to join. If you win, you’re granted a wish. Any wish. Anything at all.”
“Wow wow wow!”
“But… to win you have to beat your opponents. This isn’t part of the tournament yet, there’s nothing on the line, but it’s good experience. These two have obviously played before.”
“Taishi didn’t seem surprised by all this… so him to…?”
“We should hurry this along.”
“So, how do we play?” Ichiro says.
“The same way you do in real life, mostly,” Luna replies. “You’ll have to act as my caster and I’m your sword.”
Ichiro nods slightly. “But cards-”
Just as he thinks it, a hand of cards appears in front of him. He frowns looking them over. It’s still his deck. This could work. He smiles and nods and then pauses.
“Crystals? To level you up?” Luna shakes his head. “Then how-”
“You’ve got to collect them by winning.”
Ichiro nods slightly. Ok. He thinks the makes sense. The building shakes suddenly and rubble comes down from above. Luna grabs his hand and pulls him down the stairs. Another blast hits the building and Luna clicks his tongue, sweeping Ichiro up into his arms, and jumps the rail. They land lightly and Luna pulls him out the building to be confronted by Nanao and Taiju. Luna steps in front of him and Ichiro’s hand appears in front of him again.
“I can’t attack on the first turn,” Nanao says, his cards hovering above his hand. He smiles, touching three of the cards. Amour forms over Taiju’s shoulder and a sword flashes into his hand. “But I doubt you can do much in your turn either, little Alice.”
“Alice?” Ichiro hisses. A pair of new cards appear and Ichiro frowns at them. He frowns and looks over the cards. “Alright, senpai! Polaris, Guiding Light.”
A staff forms in Luna’s hand, a bright light encased in the mesh at the end. The light blazes and Luna lifts the staff. Five new cards appear above Ichiro’s hand and he smiles, memorizing them as quickly as he can.
“When played, let’s me see the top cards five cards of my deck.” The cards vanish again and Ichiro turns back to his hand, tapping another card. “Spell; Horoscope. I can guess turnover the top card of my deck and if I guess it’s level right, I add it to my hand and get to go again.”
“That’s surprisingly shrewd of you, little Ichiro-kun,” Nanao teases. “Perhaps we’ve found your niche.”
Naturally, Ichiro hits all five guesses before his luck fails on the blind turn. He smiles looking over the new cards and Luna is frowning back at him. He’s not a champion for no reason. He might not be great in class, but he can see the connections between cards like they’re talking to him. Like they’re pieces of a puzzle.
“Sirius, Guard Dog.” A glittering dog made of starlight appears beside Luna and Ichiro smiles, swiping another card. “And then upgrade. Sirius, Attack Dog.”
The dog grows larger, the stars forming it turning red. It’s a cost in defence, but he’d rather go all out and see what Nanao and Taiju can do rather than play safe and guard this early on. Luna gazes back at him and Ichiro grins.
“Luna, full attack.”
Sirius howls and a burst of light slams into Taiju, knocking him back at step. Nanao hisses, jumping from the piece of building he’d been standing on and moves away from the battle. Nanao and Luna class for a moment before Luna ducks beneath his sword and steps around to his attack.
“Too bad, Alice,” Nanao says. Ichiro turns to him. “Dormouse, Eternal Sleep; counter.”
The ground beneath Luna’s feet glows bright and Taiju smiles. Luna’s eyes fall shut and he hits the floor hard, Taiju standing above him with his sword. Ichiro grits his teeth. He should have been paying more attention. Nanao played three cards and only two did anything.
“You can’t afford to play so bluntly against me, Ichiro-kun,” Nanao says with a smile. “If you just stumble in you’re going to get punished. So, Ichiro-kun? Can your little stars stand against my traps?”