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The Power of Darkness

Chapter Text


PROLOGUE


Agumon had known the Kaiser was coming before even the sharpest of eyes had picked him out against the sky.

The ground trembled underfoot. The air was thick with dust and despair as Seadramon’s shadow swept overhead. The Caprimon village quickly descended in to panic; the child-level digimon weren’t entirely defenceless, but there was no way they could hold out against the Kaiser’s adult minions. They were particularly easy-pickings for a Bokemon who was rampaging through the village, crushing the Caprimon’s huts and splitting the ground with his earth destroyer attacks. Another fissure raced through the dirt, and Agumon leapt forwards to keep a handful of Caprimon from falling head-first in to the breach. Agumon ushered them back from the edge and turned towards Bokemon, sending a baby flame which splashed harmlessly against the champion’s knuckled brow.

A deep chuckle floated through the air. Agumon’s eyes narrowed as he finally saw the Digimon Kaiser up close. He looked even crueller than Agumon had expected. His lips were pulled back in a sinister sneer, and his heavy cape snapped back and forth in the wind. As far as Agumon could tell the Kaiser was a human boy; Agumon didn’t understand much about human evolution, but he knew enough to know that this boy was not the same as Taichi, even if they were the same height and both had spiky hair. The Kaiser had goggles too, though he wore his over his eyes, and the coloured lenses made his eyes look black. He stared at Agumon and his thin lips stretched in to a smirk.

“Is that the best you can do?”

Bokemon lumbered closely, stepping easily over the fissure to come to a stop before Agumon. He snorted, and the breath that washed over Agumon made him taste his breakfast again. It smelt worse than a Numemon cave, but Agumon knew better than to say that out loud. Bokemon was easily five times his size, and whilst a ‘mon’s size wasn’t always a mark of his strength, Agumon knew he would have his work cut out even if they were evenly matched.

The Kaiser laughed again, and from beneath the folds of his cloak a gloved hand withdrew a slender black whip. He cracked it in the air and several shadows began to rise behind him, each a black ring that sat motionless in the air until the Kaiser clicked his fingers and they surged forwards.

The Caprimon screamed, stumbling over each other in their attempt to flee. Agumon saw the first victim fall; the black ring looped around one of the horns of a Caprimon’s silver helmet, and as the ‘mon squealed in agony the ring tightened around the horn’s base. The Caprimon shuddered and fell silent, its eyes clenched tightly shut as its body trembled violently. When it finally looked up its eyes were glowing a sickly red, and without hesitating it turned towards its neighbour and pushed it in to the path of another ring.

Agumon was powerless to stop the attack. Every time he tried to intervene he was forced to dance back or risk having a ring wrap around him instead, and he couldn’t risk being taken by the Kaiser. He would have to run.

The arrow came from nowhere; a blur of flint and wood and colourful feathers that rapped the Kaiser’s knuckles. The Kaiser cursed, and the whip fell as he clutched his hand to his chest amidst a wave of curses. He twisted sharply, searching the skies for his attacker.

“Agumon!” Tailmon’s voice was a welcome relief, and when Agumon turned he caught a flash of white amidst the panic. He called her name, running to her as best he could, dodging Caprimon and rings and cracks in the dirt.

“We have to get the Caprimon out of here!” he called. She nodded.

“We’ve found a safe place in the woods. Can you help me get them out of the village?” He nodded and she turned sharply, waving her paws in the air. “This way! Follow me! This way!”

Agumon hurried them along, urging them to move faster and doing what little he could to try and keep the Caprimon safe from their captive kin as they fled. He hoped Tailmon’s safe place also included a secret passage, otherwise the Kaiser was likely to follow them. He glanced over his shoulder, finding the boy distracted by more arrows, but a brief pause in the attack allowed him just enough time to glance down at the village below

“After them!” the Kaiser cried, and Bokemon quickly obliged. He split the ground with another attack before charging forwards. Agumon rescued a Caprimon from the newest fissure and threw her along the line; he heard two helmets crash together as the little digimon landed with a yelp. Up ahead Tailmon was calling for them to hurry, and the river of fleeing Caprimon was quickly disappearing in to the dense foliage. Agumon stood his ground then, planting his feet firmly and flourishing his claws as the last of the Caprimon hurried past them.

“I won’t let you hurt them!” he shouted. The Kaiser’s Seadramon dove out of the sky and the boy dropped nimbly on to Bokemon’s shoulder with a smirk.

“What makes you think that you stand a chance against me?” he sneered. Agumon bared his teeth and let out the strongest baby flame he could muster, but it was hardly effective against the armoured champion. The Kaiser chuckled and held his chin. “Still, you do possess a certain courage. You would make a fine addition to my collection.” From underneath his cloak he withdrew a final ring. Despite its polished surface it scarcely gleamed in the sunlight, as though it was drinking in the light and swallowing it. The Kaiser flicked his wrist and sent the ring spiralling through the air. Agumon leapt back and broke in to a sprint, but it wasn’t long before he felt something cold snap around his neck. It squeezed, filling his data with ice as he tumbled to the ground.

“Agumon! No!” Tailmon called, and he heard her bounding lightly towards him. He opened his eyes and lifted his head.

“T-Tailmon, go!” he growled. She stopped suddenly, a look of horror on her face, and he closed his eyes and shook his head. “Get the Caprimon to safety or he’ll capture you t-”

Agumon’s voice disappeared as a jolt of pain surged through him, and he let out a howl of pain. He clawed at his new collar and dropped to the floor, eyes clenched shut against the cold, sharp pain that flooded in to his tummy

“And here’s another fine specimen,” the Kaiser chuckled. Agumon heard Tailmon let out a low hiss. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Where’s that little friend of yours? Is she hiding from me?”

“Tailmon,” Agumon choked. “Run!”

Then he knew nothing but darkness.

Chapter Text


AND SO IT BEGINS


The bell was a peal of victory that cut through the classroom like a hot knife, signalling that he’d made it to the end of another day. Daisuke was the first to have his things in his bag and he tore from the classroom, barely hearing the tired warning from his teacher to slow down.

There was no time to be slow; not today. He’d already traded his pudding cup with Ryoji so that he could get out of cleaning duty, and he intended to make use of every second. Today marked the fifth practice in a row that Daisuke had forgotten to bring his soccer kit to school which meant he would have to run home, change, grab his water and a towel, and get back to the school field in time for practice. Sure, he had an hour to do it, but if he could do it half the time then there was a chance he could catch Yagami Taichi at the field before practice started with a quick session of one-on-one.

Taichi was nothing short of legendary, and Daisuke was the first to correct anyone who thought differently. Taichi had been Daisuke’s soccer hero for as long as he could remember, and Daisuke had gone to every school match even before he had been old enough to join the team. Daisuke could recite every game-saving goal, every tight pinch, every perfect penalty of Taichi’s career to the point where Taichi’s victories almost felt like his own.

He was reminiscing about a killer last-minute goal when he felt a blinding pain at the base of his skull. His bag slipped from his shoulders as he let out a strangled yelp, and his hands flew to his head to protect himself from a further attack.

“Ow – hey! Watch it!” he yelled, but his voice was lost under the crowd. With a huff he readjusted his goggles (a style he had adopted in homage to his idol) and scooped his bag from the floor. Something fell from a fold of fabric and clattered against the floor and Daisuke scooped it up for a closer look.

It seemed like some sort of gaming device, although Daisuke didn’t know what game was small enough for its tiny, square screen. Maybe one of those virtual pet games that his sister had been obsessed with… Definitely not a soccer game, that was for sure. The body was white with a blue trim, and the silver border around the screen was engraved with tiny black symbols. He jabbed a few of the buttons, but nothing happened.

“Hey – anyone lose this?” he cried, holding it high above the crowd. “Anyone?” A handful of nearby students eyed the device but nobody stepped forward to claim it. After a moment of waving it in the air Daisuke cursed and lowered his hand, studying the device for any marks or engravings – a name, perhaps, or some kind of mark that might identify its owner – only to come up empty. The device was smooth and flawless, as though it had only just been taken from its packaging.

“Must be something from the computer lab,” he mused, twisting it over in his hand. His eyes travelled to his watch and he cursed again. He was tempted to drop it back on the floor and let the jerk who threw it collect the stupid gadget but if someone told on him it would mean a week’s detention at least – more if it was half as expensive as it looked. With a groan he scooped up his bag and set off toward the computer lab.

It was Daisuke’s least-favourite classroom. It always smelled musty, and the air – warm and thick from a lack of proper ventilation – made his eyelids heavy. He was sure he’d spent more time asleep than awake in this room. The blinds had been drawn over, blocking the afternoon sun, and a projector in the centre of the room was humming a slow whir as it cooled. The lights were off and the computers were all asleep, and Daisuke shivered. There was something about dark classrooms that set his teeth on edge.

“Hello?” he called, leaning through the doorway. “Anybody home?”

The lab was usually occupied by someone – a teacher, a technician, the computer nerd from the middle school – but today it was empty. The top drawer of the teacher’s desk would be the best place to leave the gadget, Daisuke decided as he grit his teeth and slipped inside. Or perhaps the store cupboard, if the desk was locked. And if he couldn’t get in to the cupboard… well, Daisuke thought it was pretty good of him to have brought it all the way up here after it had been thrown at his head. Maybe if nobody claimed it he could keep it. He could ask one of the computer nerds if it could play Donkey Madness.

He was halfway to the teacher’s desk when a nearby computer monitor flare to life, casting a pale glow over the room. Daisuke glanced at it, confused by the strange boxes that were scattered across the screen. Each one was filled with a series of short symbols that Daisuke didn’t recognise – not Japanese, but not Western letters either (he couldn’t read English, but he could recognise what it looked like, and it definitely didn’t look like that). The largest screen, set a little to the right, showed a strange colourful landscape that Daisuke didn’t recognise from any of his geography lessons. He couldn’t say that he’d ever really paid attention, but he was certain that he would have remembered blue trees.

Something flickered on the screen; a small flash of white in the lowest corner of the landscape. Daisuke blinked and leaned in closer, peering at the pixels. The blur looked almost like a cat with a long purple-striped tail, although it was the strangest cat Daisuke had ever seen. Its green-gloved paws were way too big for its tiny body, and its oversized ears ended in tufts of purple fur that stood straight up into the air. He pressed his face closer to the screen to get a better look, and the screen brightened around him.

He felt a strange sense of weightlessness, like the time he’d fallen off the wall beside the river, only this time he didn’t feel like he was falling. He was surrounded by a vortex of numbers and colours and shapes that span around him as a tingling wave started at his toes and raced up to the top of his skull, making his skin crawl with a strange warmth. Everything was oddly silent, and Daisuke almost felt like he should have been screaming but he wasn’t.

And then it was over, and Daisuke was standing between the strange trees he’d seen on the screen. It looked even weirder up close; the ground was pale yellow, something between dirt and sand, and the tall trees looked almost blue-green now in the shade cast by their intertwined leaves that swayed in the breeze. Some of the trees were tall and narrow, disappearing in to the sky, whilst others were shorter and wider stood several feet above the ground on a tripod of thick roots.

He raised a hand to his head in wonder, only to freeze. His hands, which had been bare just moments before, were now covered in thick suede gloves. Glancing down, he noticed that his pants and striped shirt had been replaced by a pair of khaki shorts, a pale t-shirt and a thin navy jacket that was decorated with flames along the bottom of his chest and his sleeves, whilst his neck was lined with a thin strip of soft fur. He panicked and lifted his hands to his head, breathing a sigh of relief when he found his goggles still firmly in place.

“Where am I?” he breathed. He stared at the thick foliage – at the vines and the dew-covered leaves – but he didn’t recognise any of the plants. He folded his arms and tried to listen for water (because water would lead to people and people would get him help; his dad had told him that when they used to go camping), but it was hard to hear anything over the deep rumbling noise that made the ground shake beneath his feet. An earthquake? He glanced down, watching a clump of sand-dirt shiver along the ground before he lifted his gaze and turned around.

The trees behind him were trembling; leaves tumbled to the ground as vines crashed together. Something was coming, and it was big, and it was fast. Daisuke felt his eyes bulge as panic flooded through his veins. He wanted to move, but his feet were planted to the floor as a shape finally broke through the trees, barrelling past him in a white and purple blur.

“Run!” it cried. Daisuke didn’t need to be told twice. He twisted and scrambled through the trees, keeping the strange white cat in his sights.

“Hey!” he cried. “Wait up!” The cat was darting nimbly through the trees, covering ground at an impressive speed, and Daisuke was so focused on trying to keep up that he didn’t notice the stray root until it had snared the toe of his sneaker and sent him falling face-first into the dirt.

The creature that had been chasing them burst through the foliage, knocking over several of the taller trees as it skidded to a halt with a deafening roar. It looked like some kind of rhinoceros covered in gleaming armour, and the thick spike on its snout was wrapped in a thick black band. It narrowed its angry red eyes at Daisuke and lowered its head, letting out a huff of air that made Daisuke gag. It smelt worse than the time Jun had tried to microwave fish.

“Well, well. What do we have here?” Daisuke glanced up to see a figure standing on the weird rhino’s shoulder. He couldn’t have been much older than Daisuke, though he was dressed in a weird costume that made it hard to tell. There was a navy cape trimmed with gold, and a navy jumpsuit with gleaming silver cuffs at his wrists and ankles. The boy also sported spiked hair and goggles, though he wore his over his eyes and his lenses were tinted purple. Daisuke wondered if this boy was a fan of Yagami Taichi too. He leapt off the rhino’s shoulder and landed gracefully in the dirt, his cape falling heavily behind him as he straightened, peering down his nose at Daisuke.

A shadow leapt over Daisuke and he flinched, burying his face in his arms, but nothing happened. The Kaiser chuckled and Daisuke slowly he lifted his head. A girl had appeared, planting herself firmly between Daisuke and the caped weirdo. Unlike the Kaiser, she was dressed in muted greens and browns; a large tunic bound at the waist and billowing pants tucked in to cloth wrappings around her calves. A thick strip of fabric was tangled in her hair, keeping it tied in a messy knot. She stood firm, her arm pulled back as she drew her wooden bow taught, staring at the boy down the shaft of an arrow.

“A friend of yours?” the boy asked casually, as if the girl wasn’t about to turn him in to a pincushion. She didn’t answer and the boy chuckled again. “I was wondering when you would show yourself. You caught up to me in record time, I’m almost impressed. Pity you weren’t fast enough to save your little friend-”

The arrow pierced the dirt between the boy’s feet. The cat hissed. In the blink of an eye the girl had knocked another arrow, pointing it at the boy’s chest, but he merely laughed. He swept his cloak aside with a flourish before dipping in to a bow, a mocking smirk on his lips.

“I grow tired of this game,” he announced. “It’s gotten old. Besides, I have more important matters to attend to. The Caprimon are of no interest to me now that I have your little friend in my clutches.” The girl loosed another arrow but the boy leapt up impossibly high, landing back on the rhino’s shoulder. It gave a deafening bellow before turning sharply and crashing back through the trees. It quickly disappeared from sight, but it took several more seconds until the ground stopped trembling, and when the world finally fell silent Daisuke released a shuddering breath.

“That was amazing!” he cried, springing to his feet. “Thanks for-” The words died in his throat as he found himself staring down the length of another arrow. The girl’s eyes narrowed.

“Who are you?” she demanded. The bow creaked as she pulled it taught and Daisuke’s hands flew to the air.

“Whoa! Hey! I’m not gonna hurt you-”

“What is that?” The tip of the arrow twitched towards Daisuke’s hand. Slowly Daisuke turned his head and found that he was still holding the little blue gadget that had been thrown at his head. Daisuke tried to offer it towards her but she shifted her weight and the bow creaked again, and Daisuke froze.

“I found it,” he answered. “Look, if it’s yours you can have it back. I was just trying to return it.” Her eyes flicked from his face to the device and back again, and after several tense seconds that seem to stretch for an age her expression shifted. The bow relaxed a little, though the arrow still remained trained between Daisuke’s eyes.

“The Kaiser has one just like it,” she said quietly.

“A black one,” the cat added sharply. Her eyes flashed. “How do we know you’re not working for him?” Daisuke cocked his head at the question with a confused frown.

“The Kaiser? Who’s the… Oh! That kid?” The girl nodded and Daisuke waved his hands, glancing nervously to the arrow. “I’ve never seen him before. I just got here, I swear! I’m not even sure where here is…” He scratched his head and offered her what he hoped was a charming shrug. It didn’t have the desired effect (or any effect, in fact) and she continued to stare at him like he was some sort of alien.

“Did you come from Earth?” she asked. Daisuke blinked.

“Uh… yes?” He hated the uncertainty that leaked in to his voice. Of course he had come from Earth! Where else could he have come from? Wait… “Come from? Are we… are we not on Earth anymore?” The arrow lowered a little as the girl seemed to study him closely with a confused frown.

“How did you get here?” Her voice was softer now, and the anger in her eyes seemed to have melted away a little. Daisuke swallowed thickly and slowly lowered his hands.

“I dunno,” he answered with a shrug. “One minute I was in the computer lab and then I was runnin’ for my life. No idea what I missed in the middle but I figure I musta missed somethin’.” The girl’s fingers twitched around the bow as she glanced to the cat who blinked its large blue eyes and offered a silent shrug in return. The girl turned her gaze back to Daisuke and adjusted her grip on the bow. Daisuke’s breath caught in his throat, and it stayed wedged behind his Adam’s apple until at last she stepped back and lowered the arrow.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “It’s just… You reminded me of someone I knew. I thought the Kaiser might have been playing some kind of trick. We can’t be too careful.”

“We should get going,” the cat urged, still eyeing Daisuke warily. Daisuke eyed it right back and it narrowed its eyes at him before turning to the girl. “It’s not dark yet. The Kaiser could come back.” The girl’s expression tightened and she nodded.

“I know,” she murmured. She turned as though about to leave, but she seemed to decide against it as she turned back to him with a frown. She glanced around, peering in to the shrubbery and eyeing the undergrowth before asking: “Where’s your partner?”

“M-my what?”

“Your partner,” the cat retorted dryly. “Your digimon? Where are they?”

“My… digimon?” He frowned, glancing between them. “I’m sorry… I don’t know what that is.”

“But then how are you here?” the girl asked. “You’re… you are human, aren’t you?”

“What else would I be?” he asked before he could stop himself. After seeing an armoured rhino and a talking cat, he supposed there were a lot of other things he could be. Maybe this was some kind of simulation! Like those virtual games he’d seen in sci-fi anime shows. Maybe they weren’t fiction after all, and this was some kind of exclusive demo-

“Trust me,” the cat said, its nose crinkling. “He’s human.” Daisuke’s relief quickly faded to confusion and annoyance as he took in the cat’s expression.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“So you don’t have a partner?” the girl interrupted before the cat could answer (it closed its mouth and folded its arms as its tail twitched irritably). Daisuke shrugged.

“I mean… I guess not. Where do I get one?” The girl flinched a little, her expression hardening, and Daisuke couldn’t help but think it had been the wrong thing to say.

“You can’t just get one,” the cat sneered. “That’s what the Kaiser does.”

“He doesn’t have a partner either?”

“I hope not.” The cat shifted its weight and glanced up to the girl, jerking her head towards the trees behind them. “Let’s get going.” It quickly span towards the bushes and the girl almost followed suit, but her eyes were fixed on Daisuke and she hesitated. The cat turned back several paces away, and it narrowed its eyes over its shoulder. “Hikari.”

The girl – Hikari – seemed torn, though her indecision was soon replaced by a determined frown. She turned to the cat.

“We can’t leave him here-”

Hikari-

“He doesn’t have a partner,” Hikari countered. “We can’t abandon him.”

“We can’t trust him! That’s exactly what the Kaiser would want you to do-”

“What if he’s not working for the Kaiser-”

“What if he is?” The cat sat down heavily and glared at him. “The last time a human appeared out of nowhere, it was bad news.”

“But the time before that was good, right?” The cat stewed for several long seconds, and Daisuke thought he saw it fighting a smile.

“It wasn’t all bad,” she finally answered. Hikari gave her a smile and after a moment the cat rolled its eyes. “You really wanna take him back with us?” When Hikari nodded the cat sighed and stood, tugging at its gloves and flexing its claws in Daisuke’s direction. “All right. But I’m not carrying him.” Daisuke’s stomach twisted.

“C-carry me?” he spluttered. Hikari’s eyes widened.

“Tailmon!” she scolded. The cat paused and Hikari frowned. “Don’t hurt him.” Tailmon rolled her eyes and turned back to Hikari.

“You wanna draw him a map so he can hand it over to the Kaiser?” she growled. Daisuke shook his head.

“I’m not working for the-”

“Of course not,” Hikari answered, “but I don’t want you to knock him out. Maybe we could blindfold him.”

“Yes!” Daisuke exclaimed. “Blindfold! Great idea!” Better than being knocked out, at least. Hikari was looking at him strangely and he laughed nervously (maybe he was a bit too excited about the blindfold). Tailmon’s tail twitched and she glanced back to Hikari.

“You sure about this?” she drawled. Hikari stared at Daisuke, chewing the inside of her cheek for several long seconds before finally nodding.

It took several minutes for them to find a suitable blindfold. Hikari tried weaving several broad blades of grass together, but they were silky-smooth and quickly came unravelled. Tailmon suggested tearing off a piece of Daisuke’s shirt and Daisuke made an awkward joke about crop tops and belly buttons which fell painfully flat. Eventually Hikari reached behind her head to unravel the thick strip of cloth that had kept her hair up off her neck. It took several minutes of careful untangling to separate it from the chocolate strands that fell down her back in a wild waterfall. She stepped towards Daisuke but Tailmon planted herself between them and glared up at Daisuke.

“You touch her,” she hissed, “and I’ll touch you.” She lifted a paw, flourishing several gleaming claws, and Daisuke swallowed thickly.

“No touching,” he said, waving his hands in the air. “Got it.” The cat stared him down for several seconds more until he offered her a nervous smile. She huffed and twitched her tail one last time before stepping back to allow Hikari to tie the fabric over his eyes. She reached out to take his hand and he stiffened, hearing Tailmon’s warning.

“Relax,” Hikari laughed. “Tailmon was only joking.”

“No I wasn’t,” Tailmon’s reply came from some distance up ahead. Hikari laughed again and Daisuke felt a weird kind of warmth in his stomach. He kinda liked it.

Chapter Text


THE FIRE OF COURAGE


It took Daisuke a while to get used to walking without seeing, and it took Hikari a few minutes to figure out how best to guide him over a terrain she seemed to know so well, but eventually they managed to figure out a system that kept Daisuke from tumbling too often and he felt a small but notable change in their pace. He had questions – so many questions – but none of them seemed to want to form themselves in to any kind of actual sentence, and so he followed in silence and tried not to focus too much on how soft and small Hikari’s hand felt in his.

Daisuke couldn’t even guess how long they’d been walking for when he felt the ground level out underfoot, changing from soft, springy grass to something harder and firmer as the air around them began to cool. Daisuke felt a chill as the sun disappeared and soon their footsteps began to echo. A cave of some kind, Daisuke guessed. They stopped several times, and sometimes Hikari’s hand would disappear before he would hear the scraping of stone against stone, but then her hand would be back and she would gently guide him forwards. Finally they came to a halt, and Daisuke shivered as he felt Hikari’s fingers rummaging through his hair to untie the blindfold.

It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust, and out of the darkness he could pick out a faint beam of light that pierced through the ceiling, catching something small and making it sparkle. He heard Hikari moving around him, her footsteps whispering across the floor as something shifted across the cavern. Daisuke turned towards it instinctively, only to be blinded by a flash of sparks. He reeled backwards with a startled yell and felt something hard collide with the back of his head. Hands grabbed him as his legs gave out beneath him, keeping him from collapsing completely, and as Hikari lowered him to his knees a small fire roared to life on the other side of the cave.

“Are you all right?” Hikari asked. She was kneeling in front of him, holding his hands tightly. The firelight cast half her face in to shadow and lit up the hair around her face like a halo, and Daisuke felt his voice wedge in his throat. He’d never been this close to a girl before (well, there was his sister Jun, but most of the time when they were this close it was often followed by some kind of pain). Hikari’s eyes were wide, studying him closely, and when he continued to sit and gawk like a goldfish her fingers reached out towards him, running through his hair. The feeling sent shivers down his spine until she found the growing bump on the back of his head and he grimaced with a hiss. She snatched her hands back with a gasp. “I’m sorry! Here, come in to the light, let me take a look.”

Slowly she coaxed him back to his feet and brought him closer to the fire. Her hand never left his, and Daisuke wondered if she knew about the burning in his cheeks. He thought Tailmon might; there was something in her sharp eyes that made his stomach twist unpleasantly, and he rubbed at the graze on his chin.

“I don’t think your pussycat likes me very much,” he muttered as Hikari helped him sit down near the fire. Tailmon hissed.

“She’s just… We’re just being careful,” Hikari said softly. She knelt in front of him and started unfastening a small leather bag. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a human who wasn’t… Well, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen another human.”

“So you live here all by yourself?” Daisuke asked. Tailmon growled.

“What am I? Old sushi?” she hissed.

“We’re not the only humans,” Hikari answered, tipping the contents of the bag between them, “but we just haven’t seen each other for a while. I don’t really know how many of us were left, but there’s at least one other besides the Kaiser. At least… there was…” Her gaze drifted down to the items scattered between them. A bundle of rope next to a small leather canteen embossed with a strange, angular flower-like symbol. The firelight glinted off a small gold pendant with a square pink gem on a delicate golden chain that was wound around a battered blue harmonica. She reached for a bundle of white cloth and made her way over to the fire where Tailmon had set a small kettle of water boiling. Hikari silently steeped the bandages for several minutes before wringing them out in to the dirt and bringing them back to Daisuke.

“Hold still,” she instructed, holding his jaw lightly. She dabbed at the graze on his chin gently and he did his best not to wince. Crying over a little cut was not going to win him any points with the beautiful girl that was pressed so close to him. She smelled of earth and adventure, and her large eyes flickered in the firelight as she cleaned the graze. Her gaze met his and he choked on air, lowering his gaze with a hastily murmured apology. She leant back, setting the bandages to one side.

“Turn around,” she said. His eyes bulged and his breath caught in his throat until she added: “I need to look at the back of your head.”

“Oh.” It took a moment for his body to respond, and after a moment he finally shuffled awkwardly around until his back was to the fire. He felt her settle in behind her – blocking the heat from the fire and leaving his left side chilled – and he tried not to shiver as her fingers found his hair again.

“So what’s your name?” she asked.

“It’s Dais- ah!”

“I’m sorry!” she gasped, pulling her fingers away. “I didn’t mean to hurt you!” Daisuke gritted his teeth and forced a grin.

“You didn’t hurt me,” he laughed. “That’s… That’s my nickname. Dais-ah! It’s… uh… It’s foreign.” He turned to face her, rubbing the back of his neck (and trying not to wince when he brushed the bruise). Hikari was staring at him, her eyes wide and her hands clamped over her mouth. Tailmon remained unmoved, and her narrowed eyes told him that she didn’t believe his ‘nickname’ for a second. He swallowed thickly. “But, uh, my real name’s Daisuke.” Slowly Hikari lowered her hands, and she composed herself again, a small (and very pretty) smile sliding in to place as she tilted forwards slightly in a small bow.

“It’s nice to meet you, Daisuke. I’m sorry we weren’t properly introduced earlier. I’m Hikari, and that’s Tailmon.” Tailmon lifted her chin and murmured a quiet ‘nice to meet you’ through gritted teeth. Her fangs flashed in the firelight and Daisuke hoped Hikari hadn’t seen his smile falter.

“So where are you going to stay tonight?” Tailmon asked pointedly. Hikari twisted with a glare.

“Tailmon!”

“What? He can’t stay here.”

“Of course he can,” Hikari countered. “I’m not going to just leave him out there alone with a partner.” Tailmon turned her glare on Hikari then as her tale swished angrily behind her.

“You’ve kept this place hidden for years,” she said, her voice low. “We agreed that we couldn’t risk the Kaiser finding it, and suddenly he gets a free pass? Just because he looks like Taichi doesn’t mean-”

“Stop,” Hikari snapped. Then, softer: “Please, stop.”

A tense silence settled over the cavern, broken only by the low popping and crackling of the fire. Hikari gathered the dirty bandages and the bowl and busied herself by the fire, soaking the wrags and wringing them out into the dirt. Daisuke knew that he was staring but his mind was too preoccupied to care. Taichi... Daisuke’s thoughts drifted to the Kaiser and his goggles. Sure the Kaiser wore his over his eyes, and his were gold and black and not as round, but it wasn’t exactly like goggles were a common accessory. It was the only similarity Daisuke could think of; the goggles and their spiky hair.

Could she have meant… Taichi wasn’t exactly a common name. Daisuke only knew one Taichi, but he knew at least five kids named Haruto (two were in his year at school). He glanced between Tailmon (who was staring at Hikari) and Hikari (who was pointedly avoiding her gaze), and he figured his hunch was worth a shot – if only to break the thickening silence.

“Taichi?” he asked. Tailmon’s tail flicked and Hikari’s shoulders tensed. “Yagami Taichi?” Hikari’s head snapped towards him and the firelight danced in her eyes.

“How did… Do you know him?” Daisuke grinned and nodded.

“Sure do! He’s my soccer coach!” He sat up taller; if there was one thing he could talk about, it was Yagami Taichi. “He’s the most amazing player on the team. He goes to the middle school but he still plays with us, and our team is the best it’s ever been. Last year he got us in to the junior league; we came second, which is really good for a first-time entry, so now this year we’re going to be playing against Tamachi who haven’t lost in forever-” He took a breath to continue but it caught in his throat as he noticed Hikari. Her beautiful lips had spread in to a sad smile, and her eyes were wet and sparkling. “Do… Do you guys know him too?”

“He’s my brother.”

Daisuke felt his jaw drop open. In all the years that he and Taichi had played soccer together, Taichi had never once mentioned a sister. (He’d never really mentioned any of his family, now that Daisuke thought about it.) Hikari hurried back to his side and took his hands in hers. Daisuke choked on air and tried not to splutter.

“How is he? Is he okay?” Hikari asked. Daisuke swallowed thickly.

“H-He’s fine,” he answered. Hikari’s laugh was a half-sob and she wiped a tear from her cheek.

“What about his friends? Takenouchi Sora? Or Izumi Koushiro? What about a boy – a blond boy – Takaishi Takeru?” Daisuke leant back a little, uncertainly. She was close to him – really close – and once he’d realised just how close she was it became difficult to un-notice it (Hikari, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care that her face was mere inches from his).

“S-Sora… Sora…” he repeated until the familiar name finally clicked. “Ah – Sora! Yeah! She used to play for the girls’ team but I think she’s into tennis now. Sometimes they hang around with this computer ner- kid. Computer kid from their school. I think his name is Iz… Izzy… Iz-something…”

“Izumi?”

“Yeah! Maybe… I don’t think I’ve ever seen him hanging out with anyone blond though. What was his name again? Takahashi… um… or Tadashi Daikeru or somethin’?” Hikari shook her head, wiping away another tear before listing more names. Daisuke couldn’t say any of them sounded familiar, but it didn’t seem to matter to Hikari who finally sat back on her heels with a tearful laugh. (Daisuke sucked in a deep breath. His head was spinning.)

“They really did make it home,” she whispered, looking over at Tailmon who shrugged.

“Agumon told us they got in the trolley car,” Tailmon answered.

“But now we know they made it through the gate,” Hikari breathed. Suddenly she sat up tall, struck by a sudden thought, and she leant around Daisuke to rummage through the items on the blanket. Her hands lingered over the harmonica, and after a moment of indecision she slowly unwound the delicate gold chain. She pressed the pendant in to Daisuke’s palm. “Can you give this to him? Please? And a message?” Her touch was electric. Daisuke didn’t think a girl had ever touched him so much before (at least, not willingly) and it was making it difficult to focus.

“S-sure. What should I tell him?” Hikari curled his fingers around the pendant in his palm.

“Show him this. And the digivice – yes, that’s it,” she added when he fished the little blue gadget out of his pocket. “Tell him that the Digital World is in danger. It needs him, and so do we.” Her eyes were so warm and hopeful that Daisuke couldn’t refuse even if he’d wanted to, but he instantly stumbled across a problem.

“I don’t know how to get home.” Hikari sat back and chewed her lip thoughtfully with a frown. After a moment her eyes darted down and she reached for Daisuke’s hand, curling his fingers around the blue device. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak Daisuke’s stomach let out a deep growl that echoed through the cavern. Heat rushed to his cheeks as he ducked his head with an embarrassed apology. Hikari giggled.

“Let’s get you something to eat.”

While Hikari and Tailmon rummaged through their supplies, Daisuke stood to work the aches from his legs. He stretched and twisted and stifled a curse as his back cracked painfully in several places. His left foot had gone dead from sitting cross-legged, and he hobbled around the cave to try and restart the flow of blood to his toes.

The cave was pretty bare, and mostly empty aside from the handful of possessions set near the fire opposite the cavern’s entrance. Several small hollows had been carved in to the smooth stone walls, housing twigs and feathers and bundles of twine. A pile of dull blankets had been laid out for a bed – Hikari’s no doubt – with two small nests of cloth nearby. One was covered in white fur (Tailmon’s, if he had to guess) while the other was fur-free but singed in several places.

Slowly Daisuke hobbled away from the fire (the blood had returned to his foot, along with a searing wave of pins and needles that left him bighting his tongue). He glanced up at the high domed ceiling, picking out the small hole that pierced through the rock above, and his eyes travelled down the beam of light to find something shimmering on top of a pile of dirt. It was shaped kind of like an egg, decorated with fire and flames with a jagged silver spike that jutted up in to the air. The flames almost seemed to be dancing, as though the egg had a fire of its own, and Daisuke felt something weird in his chest. It felt like something was pulling at him, reaching in to his chest and dragging him closer, but when he patted down the front of his shirt he came up empty. 

“Are you okay?”

He tried not to scream at the sound of Hikari’s voice over his shoulder. He hadn’t heard her move at all. His heart was hammering in his throat and he swallowed thickly.

“Yeah,” he answered with a strained laugh. Then, before she could ask any more questions, he asked: “What’s that?” She turned her eyes towards the egg and sighed a little.

“We don’t know. It’s my brothers; at least, we think it is.”

“You don’t know for sure?”

“There’s a mark – right here, see?” She crouched down and reached out a finger, pointing towards a small orange mark beneath the silver horn; two orange circles ringed by eight small triangles. Daisuke thought it looked kind of like a sun. “That belongs to my brother, so this must be for him. We were hoping we might have found some way to get it to him by now, but so far... no luck.” Daisuke crouched down too, holding his chin and frowning at it. The weird pulling feeling was back; it made his stomach churn like it usually did right before a big game. Scared and excited all at once.

Daisuke…

He jumped at the sound of his name, but it wasn’t Hikari’s voice. Wasn’t Tailmon’s either. Hikari was giving him a weird look and he laughed a little.

“Well… What if I took it back with me?” he suggested. “If I can figure out how it get back home then maybe I could give it to Taichi. Y’know, if we can find out how to get me home.” He laughed a little but the joke fell flat as Hikari pursed her lips and shook her head.

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to.” Daisuke’s smile fell a little and he reached out towards it.

“Well you should at least keep it off the floor-”

“Wait!”

Hikari and Tailmon’s voices echoed around the cavern as Daisuke plucked the egg out of the dirt. He straightened and dusted the grit from the bottom of the egg before realising that Hikari and Tailmon were staring at him wide-eyed. Hikari slowly straightened, her eyes never leaving the egg.

“How did you-”

Fiery orange light exploded from the floor. Daisuke yelped in surprise and ducked behind his arm to keep from being blinded. After a moment the light began to fade, withdrawing in to a pillar that burst up through the ceiling, and Daisuke saw a small shadow forming inside the beam. It twisted as it grew, sprouting arms, legs, slaws and a tail. Finally, when the tiny being was fully-formed, it opened its burning eyes and fixed Daisuke in its sights.

“Yahoo!” it cried as it burst from the light and threw itself onto the ground. The creature was cobalt blue from head to toe with the exception of its belly, muzzle and claws which were brilliant white. A small golden ‘v’ sat between the creature’s blazing eyes, and when it opened its mouth in a wide grin Daisuke saw the creature’s fierce teeth.

“Free at last! Free at last!” it chanted as it ran circles around Daisuke’s feet. Daisuke jumped back in shock, staring at Hikari for help, but she was staring at the small creature with wide eyes. Finally the creature came to a stop before Daisuke and it blinked up at him with a bright smile. “Boy have I been waiting a long time to meet you!” Daisuke balked and shook his head, waving his hands frantically.

“Whoa there, buddy! I think you’ve got the wrong guy-”

“Nope! I know it’s you, because you’re the only one who was able to move the Digimental of Courage!” the creature replied. “Pleased to meet ya – the name’s Veemon!”

“Vee…mon?” Daisuke repeated. The creature grinned and nodded his head eagerly. “But… what are you?” Veemon tilted his head to the side and turned to Tailmon.

“Is he for real?” he asked, jerking his thumb towards Daisuke over his shoulder.

“I don’t think he’s seen a digimon before today,” Hikari answered. She crouched low, wrapping her arms around her knees as she studied the creature – the digimon – with a friendly smile. “Do you came from the Digiegg of Courage?”

“The Digimental of Courage, and I sure did!” he said proudly, planting his fists on his hips and puffing up his little chest. “I’m here to protect Daisuke!” Tailmon stood next to Hikari and arched an eyebrow, her lips curling in to an amused smirk as she glanced from Veemon to Daisuke.

“I’m sure you’ll do a great j-”

A thundering rumble echoed through the cave. Tailmon’s head snapped up and Hikari’s followed a split second later, both of them staring at the ceiling. A shadow passed over the hole and they both leapt in to action.

“Tailmon-”

“I’m on it!” As Hikari dove for her bow and arrows, Tailmon turned her attention to their blankets and belongings. With practiced ease she rolled the bedding in to a tight bundle and threw it over her shoulder before securing the blankets in place with a satchel that had been used as a pillow. The ground trembled and Daisuke glanced up at the ceiling; several cracks had begun to spiderweb through the stone, and Daisuke’s breath caught in his throat as the dust falling from the ceiling turned to pebbles and rocks.

“Don’t worry, Daisuke!” Veemon said with a grin. “I’ll protect ya!”

“Not from a cave in, you won’t,” Tailmon retorted. She threw a bundle of blankets to Daisuke. “We need to move.”

“Let’s go!” Hikari called from across the cavern, throwing a small bag across her shoulders. She skirted the fire to run towards them, passing under the ceiling seconds before it crumbled completely.

“Monochromon!” Tailmon gasped. Monochromon was larger than the monster Daisuke had seen earlier. Its body was white with grey stripes, and his head and back were covered with thick, dull grey armour streaked with red. Glowing crimson eyes stared at them from either side of its armoured horn, and when it tossed its head from side to side to shake the rocks from its shoulders Daisuke saw a ring of spikes on its back and a thick black band wrapped around its waist.

“Run!” Hikari hadn’t stopped to look back, and as she passed Daisuke she grabbed his wrist and tugged him back through the mouth of the cave. Monochromon roared and stumbled after them as Hikari and Tailmon led them down a narrow passageway. Veemon easily kept up with them, and after overtaking Daisuke he began to run backwards.

“Daisuke, you have to let me digivolve!” he said.

“Digi-what?”

“You can’t,” Tailmon called over her shoulder. “The Kaiser has this whole area under his control. Nobody can digivolve.”

“Maybe not normally,” Veemon answered, “but the Digimental of Courage has a special power inside of it. I’m sure it’ll work!”

“Let’s just get outside!” Hikari cried as the walls around them began to fracture. Daisuke swallowed thickly and picked up the pace. Something was barrelling towards them from behind, and as Daisuke dove in to the sunlight it was just in time to avoid a burst of fire. He stumbled over a nearby rock and tumbled in to the dirt, and as he rolled on to his back he saw Hikari drop to her knees, knocking an arrow and training it on the mouth of the cave.

The rocks exploded as Monochromon emerged with a furious roar. His red eyes settled on Hikari and he rose up on to his hind legs. Hikari released her arrow, but the attack hit the black band around the creature’s stomach and clattered into the dirt. Monochromon huffed and his eyes narrowed dangerously at Hikari as he pawed the ground.

“Hikari!” Daisuke cried. He tried to scramble to his feet but Veemon tugged urgently at his sleeve.

“Daisuke! You have to let me digivolve!” he pressed. “I can help!” Daisuke stared at him; Veemon barely came up to Daisuke’s knee, while Monochromon was easily the size of a bus.

“But… But you’re so small.” This only seemed to make Veemon’s smile wider.

“Have courage, Daisuke!” said Veemon. “You have to open the Digimental so I can get stronger!” Daisuke glanced to Hikari who was aiming another arrow. Tailmon leapt from a nearby tree, her claws gleaming.

“Lightning paw!” she cried, striking Monochromon across the snout. He huffed in annoyance and swung his head at Tailmon, catching her with his horn and sending her flying.

“Tailmon!” Hikari cried. Monochromon turned his attention back towards her and he opened his mouth to release a deafening roar that knocked Hikari off-balance. A small flame ignited at the back of the creature’s throat, and Daisuke felt a burning in his gut. He tightened his fingers around the fiery egg in his hand and thrust it in to the air.

“Digimental up!”

Whilst he couldn’t say where the words had come from, they seemed to be the right thing to say. The egg erupted with the same fiery orange light from the cave that formed a beam of light. It lanced out, striking Veemon in the chest, and Daisuke cried out as Veemon was completely engulfed.

“Veemon… Armour Evolve…”

The light became a wall of fire, and when the flames cleared Veemon had become taller than Daisuke. His blue limbs were longer and his body was wrapped in flaming armour. His face had become chiselled and fierce, and his large eyes were protected behind a deep maroon mask that bore the same jagged metal spike as the egg. The Digimental.

“Fladramon!”

Daisuke’s heart skipped a terrified beat as he stared up at the looming monster, but then a fiery eye winked at him from behind the mask and Daisuke found that he wasn’t scared any more. There was a fire in his chest – wrapping itself around his heart – and as Fladramon surged forwards Daisuke heard himself cheer. He darted beneath the Monochromon’s jaw and closed it with a swift punch, leaving him to swallow his own fire as Hikari rolled to her feet and sprinted towards Tailmon who was staring at the fight.

“Fladramon!”

“He evolved…” Hikari exclaimed. Her face lit up with a smile. “He evolved! We can fight back!”

Fladramon rushed at Monochromon with fire on his claws. He held Monochromon’s shoulders in each of his burning hands and pushed the monster away from the mouth of the cave, putting more distance between the fight and Daisuke.

“Vee- Fladramon!” Daisuke hollered. “Be careful!” Hikari giggled, her eyes shining as she watched Fladramon draw Monochromon further away from them.

“Don’t worry,” she said, her cheeks flushed with excitement. “I think he’ll be just fine.”

Fladramon kept up a series of attacks as he led Monochromon through the trees. Daisuke followed as close as he dared, ducking and diving this way and that to avoid stray fireballs or low-flying debris. Eventually the ground levelled out and the trees thinned, and as Monochromon began to charge across the grassy plain Fladramon leapt in to the air and surrounded himself in a blanket of fire.

“Fire rocket!” he cried. Monochromon reared up on to his hind legs, ready to defend himself, but Fladramon planted a flaming fist in the creature’s gut. The fractured ring encircling Monochromon’s waist shattered like glass before disappearing, and Monochromon let out a bellowing roar as he collapsed to his knees. Fladramon landed gracefully on the ground nearby, and after taking a moment to study the fallen monster he nodded to himself and began to glow. The orange light appeared again, covering Fladramon from head to toe before arcing back towards Daisuke and hitting the screen of the small blue device. It shuddered in Daisuke’s grip and emitted three short sharp beeps before falling silent. Daisuke wasn’t given much time to consider it as he felt his pocket grow heavy, and when he plunged his hand inside he found a small, hand-held computer. Curious, he flipped open the lid to find the Digimental of Courage floating on the display.

The world span. He blinked and dropped heavily to his knees, barely able to avoid falling on his face. He was tired… so tired… Someone was calling his name, and when he looked up it was just in time to see Veemon barrelling towards him.

“Daisuke!” he cried. He launched himself at Daisuke’s chest, knocking Daisuke on to his back, and he sat on Daisuke’s stomach with a triumphant grin. “Did you see me? I did it! I got big and strong because of you!” Daisuke had to fight to keep his eyes open, and he forced a grin.

“You did great, buddy!” he cheered, though his words were slurred. Veemon’s smile fell and he leant forwards, resting his chin on Daisuke’s.

“Are you okay?” His breath tickled Daisuke’s nose and he wheezed a laugh.

“Yeah, I’m okay. Just tired.” Veemon looked a little sheepish then, and he gave Daisuke a lopsided smile.

“Oops, guess I musta taken a bit more of your energy than I should’ve,” he said with a shrug. Daisuke frowned and propped himself up on his elbows.

“My energy… Wait! Is that what you meant when you said you got stronger because of me?” Veemon grinned so hard he had to close his eyes, and he nodded his head so vigorously that Daisuke thought he was going to fall over.

“That’s right! I couldn’t’ve done it without ya!” Daisuke sat up all the way then. The haze over his mind was clearing, and the lead in his limbs was starting to lighten. He scratched his head and readjusted his goggles as he glanced around, hoping Hikari hadn’t seen him so close to passing out.

(He wished she’d warned him. Then again, she hadn’t seemed to even know what the Digimental was, so she probably had even less of a clue of what it was going to do.)

He spotted her several feet away, standing next to the defeated Monochromon, and his heart leapt to his chest as she reached out towards its gleaming silver horn.

“Hikari! Be careful!” he cried, scrambling to his feet (Veemon let out an indignant yell as he fell to the floor). Hikari and Monochromon both turned to stare at him. After a moment Hikari smiled and reached out to place her hand against Monochromon’s snout.

“It’s all right,” she said softly. “Monochromon was just telling us about the Dark Rings; it’s the Kaiser’s way of controlling digimon.” Daisuke took in the deflated digimon with wary eyes, and the monster stared back. His red eyes had faded, and were now the colour of a cloudy sky. He slowly lumbered to his feet, and when he was standing again he dipped his head towards Daisuke.

“I’m sorry to have troubled you,” the digimon rumbled. “The last thing I remember, I was on my way to help Elecmon with the protection of Primary Village, and then I was here. I’m in your debt.” Veemon grinned and basked in the compliment.

Monochromon stayed a little longer, apologising several times for destroying the cave. Hikari only smiled and said that it was time for them to move on anyway. Daisuke couldn’t imagine being that calm if he’d lost his home, but then again everything Hikari owned seemed to be either on her back or Tailmon’s. After his offer to help them find new shelter was politely turned down, he left each of them with a bow and a promise to come to their side if they found themselves in trouble.

“So it’s not permanent,” Hikari said as they waved goodbye to Monochromon. “The Kaiser’s control doesn’t have to be the end.”

“And with Fladramon on our side, maybe we’ll even have a chance of defeating him,” Tailmon added with a decisive nod. Daisuke stared between them both in confusion before looking at Veemon. The little creature returned the look with a shrug. Hikari slung her bow over her shoulder and collected an arrow from the dirt nearby.

“We should find shelter,” she said, dropping the arrow in to her quiver and looking up at the sky. “It’ll be dark soon.”

“We’ll need more food, too. We weren’t expecting company.”

“Yay! Food!” Veemon exclaimed. He leapt towards Tailmon who watched him carefully as he ran energetic circles around her. “What are we gonna eat?” Tailmon’s claws kneaded the dirt as she arched an eyebrow at him.

“Whatever’s lying around.” Daisuke wasn’t sure if that had been some kind of threat, but Veemon didn’t seem to notice. He launched in to a barrage of questions as they set off (What was Tailmon’s favourite food? What did she normally eat? Where were they gonna eat? When were they gonna eat? Could they eat that? Or that?) and Daisuke quickly fell in step beside Hikari.

“So this is what you do?” he asked. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and he grinned. “Runnin’ around, fightin’ bad guys?” Her smile fell a little and she turned her gaze forward, staring after Tailmon and Veemon.

“It wasn’t always like this. It used to be peaceful until the Kaiser showed up.” Her fingers tightened around the leather strap across her chest. “At first he was just controlling digimon using his dark digivice, and Tailmon could evolve then so we could fight back and free them. But then he found a way to stop anyone evolving without his permission, and now he can control digimon all across the continent.” Her expression was grim, and Daisuke flashed her his best smile.

“But with me a Fladramon, now you can fight again! We’ll show the Kaiser who’s boss!” The smile that lit up her face made his heart soar.

They crested a small hill as the sun began to set, and beyond Daisuke was surprised to see a desert that seemed to stretch on for miles. The blades of grass suddenly gave way to waves of sand, and as they moved from one terrain to the other Daisuke felt a cool breeze dance across the back of his neck. Something was glimmering in the distance and the digimon veered towards it, coming to a stop several paces away.

“Is that… a TV?” Hikari asked.

It was, but it looked like an old one. It was a big black box – the kind that Daisuke’s grandma still had because “those new-fangled flat displays are too confusing”. The bulbous display was flickering like static, but as Daisuke stared he thought he saw an image taking shape.

“It looks like the computer lab,” he muttered. He slipped through Veemon and Tailmon to step closer, and the image grew a little clearer. With every step he took, he could make out more detail until he was certain that he was in fact looking at his classroom.

He didn’t realise he’d been leaning so far forwards until he found himself suddenly tilting. He let out a surprised yelp, throwing his hands out to keep from falling face-first in to the sand, and he was quickly enveloped by a bright white light. His breathing stopped, his heart restarted, and his elbow exploded as he collided with something hard. Voices were calling his name but they were muffled and tinny. Slowly he sat up, rubbing his elbow with a stream of curses.

He was back in the computer lab.

Realisation hit him like a brick and he scrambled to his feet, darting back to the computer. He saw Hikari, Veemon and Tailmon peering at him through the screen.

“Daisuke!” Hikari called. “Are you all right?”

“I’m okay,” he answered. “What happened?”

“You got sucked in to the TB!” Veemon exclaimed.

“T-V,” Tailmon corrected, before adding: “It looked like your digivice was able to open a portal and take you home.” Daisuke frowned.

“My… digivice? Oh!” He glanced down at his hand to find he was still holding the blue device. “That’s this thing, right?” Tailmon nodded. “You must have one too, right? You should come through!” Hikari sucked in a sharp breath, but after a moment she unclipped something from her waistband. Her device didn’t look like Daisuke’s; instead it was small and white all over, barely bigger than the palm of her hand. She held it out towards the screen and Daisuke held his breath, but nothing happened.

“Maybe only you can pass through,” Hikari suggested, putting her digivice back on her waistband again.

“Then I’m coming back through,” Daisuke said firmly. “Stand back, Veemon, or I’m gonna squish you.” Veemon let out a yelp and scurried behind Tailmon who rolled her eyes.

“No, Daisuke, you need to stay there for now,” Hikari countered. “Do you still have my crest? The necklace?” Daisuke reached in to his pocket and withdrew the pink and gold charm, holding it out for her to see (he wasn’t sure where exactly the camera was, but he seemed to do a good enough job because Hikari was nodding). “Find my brother and show it to him. Tell him we need his help.” Daisuke tightened his grip on his digivice and the crest as his smile fell.

“But… what about you?” he asked. “If the Kaiser comes back-”

“We know how to keep out of his way,” Hikari answered. “Now that you have the Digimental, we don’t need to stay in the cave anymore. We’ll look for somewhere to stay tonight, and then we’ll head out in the morning.”

“Head out?”

“Now that we know it’s possible to destroy the Kaiser’s dark rings, we have to spread the word and try and rally all the free adult digimon that we can.”

“Plus we need to check on Primary Village,” Tailmon added. “If Elecmon’s calling in help, it might mean the babies are in trouble.” Hikari nodded, and when Daisuke remained unconvinced she offered him another smile.

“Are you gonna be all right?”

“We’ll be fine,” Hikari answered with a smile. “Besides, the Kaiser doesn’t come out at night. It’s the safest time for us here.” Daisuke knew that he probably should have believed her (they’d managed without him up until now, of course) but that didn’t stop him from locking eyes with Veemon.

“Keep them safe, buddy.” Veemon grinned and stood tall.

“Sure thing, partner!”

Chapter Text

 


LOVE AND KNOWLEDGE


Taichi sighed as he stuffed his damp towel in to his gym bag with the rest of his soccer gear. Practice had been exhausting. He’d never realised just how much he relied upon Daisuke’s seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm, and practice had been twice as hard without Daisuke at his side. He’d never missed a practice before, and his absence – especially with no explanation – was puzzling.

Still, he was a young kid. Obsessions came and went… Well, they did with normal kids at least. Besides, Taichi had more important things to worry about. Like dinner. Reheat the stew from last week or try to whip up some semblance of edible food from the scraps in the cupboard? Not that his father would be there for it or his mother would eat it. Still, he would wrap up a plate for the former and set it in front of the latter nonetheless before disappearing to his room to avoid the awful buzz of the television that rattled through their empty apartment.

He was just about to pull his goggles back over his hair when he heard the pounding of footsteps in the distance. The rest of the team had showered and left long ago while Taichi had spent some extra time on the field to clear his head before turning in for a shower. The only people hanging around the school at this time of the evening were the custodians (who were far too meticulous to run anywhere) and, on some occasions, Koushiro and the computer club, though they were all the way on the other side of the building.

The door to the changing rooms flew open and the footsteps drew closer.

“Taichi? Taichi are you in here?” Taichi frowned.

“Daisuke?” he called back as the boy ran past the end of the lockers. He quickly backtracked and leant heavily against his knees.

“There you are!” he panted. “Listen – I have a message-”

“Daisuke what happened to your goggles?” Taichi asked. The glass in Daisuke’s prized goggles was fractured and, in the case of the left lens, half-missing. Taichi frowned; the boy was known to be hot-headed, especially when it came to sports, but they both knew too well the consequences of Daisuke picking another fight this season. Daisuke’s shaking hands reached up to his hair and he slowly pulled the goggles down to examine them.

“Aw man!” he groaned, prodding the broken lenses with a forlorn sigh. “I can’t believe this! Hikari could’ve at least told me-”

“What did you say?” Taichi asked. His stomach twisted painfully as Daisuke looked up with a grin, as though immensely proud of something.

“That’s why I came to find you! Hikari told me to t-”

Taichi didn’t remember reaching for the boy’s shirt, nor could he later recall throwing Daisuke against the lockers, but in the blink of an eye he found his face inches away from Daisuke’s.

“Where did you hear that name?” he growled. Daisuke was trying to wrench Taichi’s hand from his shirt.

“Taichi – you’re hurting me-” Daisuke spluttered. Only then did Taichi release his grip. He stepped back, mumbling an apology before running a hand over his face. Daisuke cleared his throat and put his goggles back in his hair. “I’m sorry, Taichi, I didn’t mean to upset you-”

“Go home, Daisuke,” Taichi murmured. He clenched his eyes shut, but the mere mention of her name brought his worst nightmares to the surface and they were playing out before him in a jumbled mess of memories. He fumbled through his pocket for his phone. He needed to get home. No, not home. Somewhere else. Somewhere away. He needed Sora.

“Taichi,” Daisuke said softly. “I’m sorry, I-”

“Forget it, Daisuke,” Taichi muttered. “I have to go-”

“Wait! I need to show you this-”

“It can wait-”

No, Taichi.” And the determination in Daisuke’s voice made him stop. He lifted his head, finding Daisuke planted firmly in his way with his hands outstretched. “You need to look at these.”

And he did. Maybe it was the note of urgency in Daisuke’s voice, or maybe it was some small rational part of his brain that finally registered Daisuke’s words (Hikari had sent Daisuke to find him, and she couldn’t do that if she was-), but he found himself staring down at Daisuke’s hands. He didn’t recognise the blue and white device on the right, but his heart stopped at the sight of the pink and gold pendant to the left. He reached towards it, his fingers trembling as he picked it out of Daisuke’s palm, running his fingers over the engraving of his sister’s crest. It was impossible… the tags had been destroyed in the battle against Apokarimon, and yet…

“Hikari.” Her name came out in a choked whisper as his eyes traced each petal of the angular flower. He heard Daisuke breathe a sigh of relief.

“So you really do have a sister?” Daisuke asked quietly. Taichi nodded, still staring at the crest. “Hikari’s really nice, Taichi. I don’t think Tailmon likes me all that much though.” Taichi stifled a sob at their names.

“She’s alive,” he breathed. Daisuke made a strangled sort of choking noise.

“Wait – she wasn’t always?” he stammered, but Taichi wasn’t listening. His phone was buzzing, and he flipped it open to find a message from Koushiro.

Are you still at soccer? Meet me in the computer lab.

He didn’t need to be told twice. Without a word to Daisuke he snatched up his bag and tore from the changing room, barely able to hear Daisuke calling his name over the roar of blood in his ears. His numb fingers clutched at the crest as he took the stairs two – three at a time before skidding round the corner. The light in the computer lab was on, but as Taichi drew closer he could hear voices. He cursed; Koushiro was there, but there were at least two others, and Taichi couldn’t risk talking about the Digital World in front of strangers. He tore the door open regardless; perhaps the sight of a half-mad upperclassman would be enough to scare whatever juniors Koushiro was talking to.

The room fell silent. Koushiro rose from his chair, and Taichi’s heart skipped a beat at the excited grin that crept over his face. Footsteps echoed up the corridor behind Taichi.

“Wow… man…” Daisuke wheezed. “You run… fast.” Taichi ignored him and glanced from Koushiro to the other two occupants of the room; a tall slender girl with lilac hair and younger boy with close-cropped dark hair and sombre green eyes. Taichi quickly glanced back to Koushiro and tilted his head towards them.

“Could we talk?” he asked. “Alone?” Koushiro shook his head.

“There’s no need,” he stated. He lifted his hand to show Taichi two devices – like Daisuke’s, though where his was blue these new digivices (because what else could they have been?) were red and yellow. “If I’m right, then it would appear that we can go back.”

Koushiro’s guess had been half-correct. The gate appeared to have been opened again, but seemed intermittent. Daisuke had shown them the programme that had taken him to the Digital World and back, but no amount of thrusting the new digivices towards towards the screen (nor Koushiro’s frantic tinkering) had been able to get them back through.

Taichi, unable to do anything but wait, had floored Daisuke with questions about Hikari. How was she? Did she look okay? Was she happy? Why hadn’t she come back with Daisuke? Taichi had gotten more than he’d bargained for, as Daisuke had told him of the Digimon Kaiser and his dark rings.

The new threat didn’t sit well with Taichi, and when he and Koushiro met up with Sora in the park later that evening Taichi couldn’t stop thinking about Hikari fending for herself in the Digital World. Alone.

“She’s not totally alone,” Sora said quietly. Koushiro was sitting at a bench nearby with his laptop hooked up to his phone, frantically typing to Mimi to tell her what was happening. Sora and Taichi were sitting on the swings; Taichi’s knuckles were white as he gripped the chains too tightly in an attempt to try and stay calm. (It wasn’t working.) “She has Tailmon; she’s still at adult level. She might not be as strong as Angewomon, but she can keep Hikari safe.”

“But she can’t digivolve,” Taichi countered. Daisuke had glossed over it so quickly that Taichi had almost missed it; it was apparent that Daisuke didn’t really understand the significance of it, though he had gone on to try and explain a weird kind of evolution involving some kind of egg (and had managed to derail Koushiro completely when he’d pulled a small computer out of his pocket and shown them the Digimental of Courage floating on the screen).

“We don’t know that for certain. Daisuke could have been confused,” Sora offered, reaching across to squeeze his hand gently. “And even if that really is the case, Tailmon is still strong. Have you forgotten the time she practically wiped the floor with us?” He knew it was meant to be reassuring, but visions of Vamdemon’s castle swam in his mind and he couldn’t quite bring himself to smile. Tailmon had been stronger than them once, but they’d been weak and inexperienced. It was hardly an impressive benchmark when compared to some of the enemies they had fought since; enemies that they’d battled as a team and still almost lost. He closed his eyes and squeezed her hand in return.

“I just want to see them,” he sighed. “All of them. Yamato, Takeru, Jou… We should have waited for them. We should have stayed behind to look for them-”

“I disagree,” Koushiro interrupted. “It was never our destiny to remain in the Digital World; we needed to come home. Having all of us come home together would have been ideal, but perhaps this was our fate. Perhaps we needed to be divided.” Destiny. Taichi hated that word.

“What do you mean?” Sora asked.

“Well, I was thinking about what happened today,” Koushiro continued. “Daisuke found his digivice – or, rather, his digivice found him – and he made his way to the Digital World on his own. Imagine if he hadn’t run in to Hikari? I wouldn’t doubt that he would have landed himself in some serious trouble, and there would have been nobody aware of how to reach him or even that he was missing in the first place.”

“So why couldn’t we all stay?” Taichi asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Koushiro said, bobbing his head. “What if Daisuke had returned here with nobody to guide him? He would have had so many unanswered questions. And no offence, Taichi, but he seems just as… impulsive as you were. People seem to have forgotten everything to do with the Digital World – a great convenience, in my opinion – so can you imagine what would have happened if Daisuke had gone around asking questions? People would have called him crazy. Or, worse, they would have believed him, and the Digital World would have become the focus of a worldwide experiment.” He closed his laptop and slipped it in to its carry bag with practised ease before standing and straightening his jacket.

“I believe,” he continued, “that we are here to guide Daisuke and the others, to help them defend the Digital World as we did. Four of us from this world, and four in the other.” Taichi folded his arms around the chains of the swing and kicked the toe of his sneaker in to the dirt.

“Well maybe you remember it a little differently, but we didn’t have any guides and we got on just fine,” he scoffed.

“But, Taichi,” Sora countered, “we were all thrown in at the deep end together. We didn’t have the choice to go home until we’d already come to terms with what was going on, and by then we understood that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to tell everyone about the Digital World. Daisuke seems to be able to come and go almost as he pleases.”

“I thought that too,” Koushiro said with a nod. “After examining the programme on the computer in the lab, it does appear to be a portal between our world and the Digital World – much like the gates that we used to travel between worlds, but in a new form. It would appear that this new gate is locked by default until it receives a valid key.”

“A new digivice,” Sora offered. Koushiro nodded.

“I wasn’t able to completely open a gate, but the program was definitely reacting to Daisuke’s digivice and the others’. When I tried to activate the programme with my digivice, I might as well have been holding up a rock.”

“So what do we do?” Taichi asked.

“I propose that we return to the computer lab after school tomorrow with Daisuke, Miyako and Iori. It’s possible that the gate may open at the same time as it did today.”

“Tomorrow?” Taichi exclaimed. Tomorrow was a long way away, and a lot could happen in that time. What if this Kaiser took Hikari? What about Agumon and the others? He clutched at the Crest of Light through his shirt with a scowl. He didn’t want to wait; he wanted to see his sister.

“I know you’re frustrated, Taichi,” Koushiro said quietly. “I won’t pretend that I know exactly what you’re going through, but I miss them too. We all do. We’ll find them, I promise.”

Daisuke wasn’t sure what love felt like, but he hoped it felt something like this – a warm, fuzzy feeling in his chest that made him smile and sigh. He stared through the window, absently writing her name, and whenever he blinked he saw her warm smile bathed in firelight.

Taichi had found him before class that morning and told him in no uncertain terms that they were meeting in the computer lab after school. Daisuke hadn’t complaint, especially if it meant another chance to see Hikari and to introduce Taichi to Veemon. When his mother had called him at morning break to ask what he wanted for dinner, Daisuke had hurriedly told her that he had to stay behind after school (“Detention again, Daisuke?” his mother had sighed) and wasn’t sure when he’d be home.

Another bell. Another victory peal. Another day over. Daisuke bolted from class, his bag close to his chest as he squeezed through the crowds.

“Excuse me! Sorry! Excuse me – hey! Move!”

He finally staggered in to the computer lab several minutes later, dishevelled and out of breath from fighting through waves of students. A sign had been placed on the door which read: Private Class in Session. Please do not enter. Daisuke hesitated, his hand hovering over the handle. He was awkward enough in the computer lab without interrupting a private lesson, but he didn’t want to keep Taichi and the others waiting.

“Oi, Daisuke!”

He jumped at the sound of his name to see Taichi making his way down the hall. Daisuke grinned and eagerly waved back, though his stomach fell a little when he realised that Taichi wasn’t alone. Takenouchi Sora was with him, and when she waved at Daisuke he forced himself to give a polite smile back. It made sense, of course – Hikari had mentioned her name – but Daisuke had been kinda hoping that it would just be him and Taichi, and he could reunite his idol with his sister and then they would all go out and get pizza.

Taichi breezed past the sign on the door and motioned for Daisuke to follow. Inside the room was empty aside from a single figure sitting at one of the computers, his face inches from the screen.

“Careful, Koushiro, you’ll get square eyes,” Sora laughed. The boy, Koushiro, turned towards her with narrowed eyes.

“I wouldn’t need to sit so close if the school would invest in some decent hardware,” he grumbled. He turned away from the screen, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with one hand while the other gestured towards the screen. “We may have a problem, the Digital Gate is-” The computer made a strange chirping sound, and when Koushiro turned back towards it his eyes bulged. “What the – The gate opened!”

“Isn’t that what gates do?” Taichi asked. His tone was lighthearted but his shoulders were tense, and Daisuke saw his fingers holding something in a white-knuckled grip. Koushiro scowled.

“Yes,” he replied curtly, “but before Daisuke came in the program was completely unresponsive. It looks like-” The door flew open and Miyako and Iori barrelled in to the room.

“Mr Fujiyama is coming!” Miyako squeaked. Koushiro paled, and Taichi and Sora shared a funny look.

“Mr Fujiyama?” Sora asked. “Why is that a bad thing?”

“He sometimes supervises the computer club,” Miyako panted. “I told him Koushiro was running the club today, so we weren’t completely unsupervised, but I think he was following us here.”

“Then we’d better get going,” Taichi said firmly. “Daisuke, how does this thing work?” Daisuke pushed himself away from the computer with a grin (Yagami Taichi was asking him for help! Yagami Taichi was asking him for help!). He stood tall and puffed out his chest.

“Follow my lead!” he boasted, though as he stood in front of the glowing monitor he quickly realised that he didn’t actually know how he had gotten through the gate. Or how he had gotten back. He tried to think, but it was difficult to do with so many eyes staring at him and the silence pressing heavily at his back. Think, Daisuke! Hadn’t Tailmon said something? Something about his digivice? He glanced down at it and grinned as an idea quickly formed in his head. Footsteps were echoing up the corridor as he lifted his digivice towards the screen.

“Here we go!”

He felt like he was falling again, although this time it felt familiar and almost fun. The feeling lasted for a split second which stretched for an eternity before the gate threw him on to soft, green grass. Behind him, Taichi, Sora and Koushiro kept their balance and landed on their feet, but Miyako and Iori tumbled to their knees, gasping.

“Intense, right?” Daisuke asked as he offered a now-gloved hand to Iori. The younger boy nodded and pulled himself to his feet, though he still seemed somewhat shaken. Daisuke noticed that his clothes had changed too, and Iori now wore an off-white tunic which fastened down one side with maroon bands at his wrists that matched the maroon of his short pants. Iori quickly noticed the change too, and he twisted and tugged at his new clothes.

“It’s comfortable,” he announced, pulling at his sleeves.

“Ah! Me too!” Miyako cried, tugging at her clothes. Her plain dress and leggings had been replaced by a pale blue turtleneck with long sleeves that ended under white gloves. Red cotton pants that billowed around her thighs were tucked in to tan boots and secured with a silver belt, and the strap of a green backpack sliced through her tan vest jacket from shoulder to hip. Her glasses remained, large and round, but the bandana she had been using to tie back her hair had been replaced by a coppery-orange helmet. She tugged at her vest with a grin. “I’m dressed like one of the cool kids!” Daisuke snorted.

“Not sure what cool kids you’ve been lookin’ at,” he sniggered. Miyako scowled.

“Oh, like you can talk, goggle-breath!” Daisuke laughed again.

“What does that even mean?” he asked. Her cheeks turned red and she stomped her foot.

“It means your goggles are lodged in your throat because they’re so far up your-”

“Miyako,” Iori murmured softly, “perhaps now isn’t the time.” Daisuke was ready to tell the kid to mind his own business when he realised Iori was staring out over the landscape, dumbstruck. Miyako quickly followed his gaze, and at once her anger faded as her jaw fell open.

“It’s beautiful!” Daisuke looked around then, taking in the green hills that rolled lazily towards the horizon.         There were no trees, no caves… The realisation made his heart sink.

“Wait…” he murmured. “This isn’t where I was yesterday…”

“What do you mean?” Taichi asked sharply. Daisuke jumped and felt a nervous heat rush in to his cheeks.

“Well yesterday there were vines and trees and… other stuff,” he stammered, trying his best to remember. Taichi turned away then, his dark eyes scanning the landscape as a troubled frown settled over his face like a storm cloud. He grit his teeth and ran forwards.

“Hikari!” he cried, cupping his hands to his mouth. “Hikari!”

“We should stay with him,” said Sora as Koushiro called out for Taichi to be careful. “He’ll only get himself in to trouble.” While her tone was serious and her lips were pressed together in a thin line, Daisuke noticed her eyes were bright and her cheeks were flushed. She took off after Taichi and Koushiro. Daisuke followed next, with Miyako and Iori stumbling along behind them.

“Hikari!” Daisuke cried, adding his voice to Taichi’s. “Veemon! Hikari! Hey – where are you?” He had no idea how far they were from the TV screen he’d left through yesterday, and no idea how to get there either. He was beginning to wonder if they’d appeared too far away for anyone to find them when a small voice floated towards him on the wind.

“Daisuke!”

A small blue blur crested the hill up ahead and Daisuke grinned.

“Veemon!” The sight of the little digimon gave Daisuke an extra burst of speed. Veemon was sprinting too, and when he was close enough he leapt from the ground and in to Daisuke’s arms.

“Look! I brought friends with me!” Veemon exclaimed, pointing back over his shoulder. Two new digimon were flying towards them; a pink bird and a huge red-green insect that was bigger than a soccer ball.

“Piyomon!” Sora cried. She swept the bird out of the air in to a tight hug, spinning her wildly as she laughed in to the pink feathers. The bug made a beeline for Koushiro who crouched down to rest a hand on the digimon’s armoured shell.

“Tentomon, I’ve missed you!”

“Well aren’t you a sight for big, green eyes?” the digimon quipped, its voice mixed with a strange sort of buzzing that set Daisuke’s teeth on edge. Daisuke caught sight of Taichi then, still staring out across the fields, and Daisuke swallowed his excitement.

“Veemon, where’s Hikari?” He didn’t miss how Taichi flinched at the name, his head turning sharply towards them.

“She and Tailmon went north to tell everyone how to break the Kaiser’s rings. We didn’t think you’d be back so soon!”

“Of course I was comin’ back!” Daisuke exclaimed. “Why wouldn’t I?” Veemon shrugged.

“Hikari said last time the gate shut for years,” he answered. His face split in to a grin. “I’m just glad you came back to see me!” Daisuke tried to smile, but he caught sight of the disappointment that flashed across Taichi’s face and his stomach plummeted. It was gone in an instant, replaced by a solemn sort of determination as Taichi turned his attention to the other digimon.

“Have either of you seen Agumon?” he asked. The two shared a look, and after a moment’s hesitation Piyomon pulled away from Sora.

“We’re sorry, Taichi,” she began softly. “We heard it from some Caprimon who had to flee their village. Agumon was trying to help save them but he… he was captured by the Kaiser.” Taichi’s shoulders trembled and Daisuke saw the vein in his neck begin to throb as he clenched his jaw. It was a fair guess that Agumon was Taichi’s partner. Daisuke held Veemon a little tighter.

“But don’t worry, Taichi!” Tentomon said brightly. “If I know Agumon, he’ll be fighting every second, especially if he hears that you’re back.” Taichi almost smiled, but it fell kinda flat and ended up looking more like a grimace.

“Thanks, guys,” he muttered tightly. He took in a sharp breath and pulled his shoulders back, turning his attention back towards the fields again. “We should probably head north if we want to find-”

“What’s that?” Miyako shouted, pointing towards the sky. A shadow had emerged from a large cloud overhead and was speeding towards them. “Is that an Agumon?”

“That’s not Agumon,” Tentomon said, his voice very matter-of-fact, but it was quickly eclipsed by Taichi’s bellow of: “RUN!”

Daisuke ran faster than he’d ever run before, but it wasn’t fast enough to outstrip the deafening buzzing from the digimon overhead. Something snared his waist and he yelped as Taichi tackled him to the ground just in time to avoid the creature’s gleaming scythes; they left deep gauges in the grass ahead before the digimon swooped back in to the sky with a shriek.

“What is that?!” Miyako wailed. Sora had pulled her out of the digimon’s path and had wrapped her arms tightly around Miyako who was white as a sheet and trembling from head to toe. Piyomon was hovering in front of them, her eyes narrowed dangerously.

“That’s Snimon,” she answered.

“He’s coming back around,” Tentomon warned as he took to the air beside her. Snimon let out another shriek before swooping back towards them again, and Daisuke caught sight of the black band wrapped around its green waist.

“Veemon-”

“I see it, Daisuke!” he answered as Piyomon released a twisting spiral of emerald fire and Tentomon sent a jolt of lightning; both attacks splashed harmlessly against Snimon’s shoulders, and Veemon leapt out of Daisuke’s grip.

“Don’t worry, you guys,” he said as Veemon started running. “We’ve got this. Digiemental u- whoa!

“Daisuke!” Taichi cried, surging towards him, but it was too late. With a sudden shudder the ground beneath Daisuke’s feet gave way. The world tilted as Daisuke tumbled backwards, his arms spinning wildly in an attempt to stop his fall.

He grabbed the ledge by accident, and he was so surprised that he almost let it go again. He let out a bark of surprised laughter before making the mistake of glancing down. Instead of the bottom of a sinkhole, he found himself staring at the gleaming tip of a giant drill.

“Drimogemon!” Tentomon shouted, and Daisuke could only guess that was the name of the beast that had burrowed its way up from beneath the ground. It’s body was cream on its legs and underbelly, while its back was covered with fine purple fur, and a black band encircled one of its legs. Another of the Kaiser’s slaves.

“Hold on, Daisuke! I’m coming!”

“Veemon, wait!” Veemon had already jumped in to the large ravine, diving head-first towards Drimogemon.

“V-headbutt!” He smashed his head against Drimogemon’s, and the digimon reared back with a roar. Veemon bounced up from the attack, hanging in mid-air for a moment as he rubbed his head with a frown.

“Veemon, I’ve got you!” Daisuke called, reaching for his partner, but as one hand closed around Veemon’s tail the other slipped from the ledge, and together they went crashing further into the ravine. Daisuke remembered grazing his elbow, banging his shoulder, and then a blow to the back of the head left him falling in darkness.

“N-No way…” Miyako’s whimper was small and terrified as she trembled against Sora. “The ground just… opened up… and they’re gone…” Sora tore her eyes away from the hole to focus on Miyako, spinning her sharply to make her look away. Miyako clenched her eyes shut as terrified tears began to run down her cheeks. “I wanna go home now!” she wailed. Sora squeezed her shoulders.

“We have to move,” she said, but Miyako stood still and buried her face in her gloves. “Come on, Miyako, we have to go.”

“But what about Daisuke?” Iori asked, his voice rasping and threatening to break. He was shaking too, his eyes fixed on the large hole despite Koushiro’s hand on his shoulder. Piyomon and Tentomon had soared in to the air, doing what little they could to distract Snimon, though with only two of them against an adult-level digimon (and a strong adult, at that) they were tiring quickly.

“Taichi!” Sora shouted. He was kneeling next to the ravine, a hand still outstsretched from where he had reached for Daisuke, and at the sound of his name his head shot up. He glanced first to the sky, then back to the now-empty ravine, and then to Sora. He gave her a firm nod – the kind she hadn’t seen since their last adventure in the digital world – and he quickly rose to his feet.

“We can’t help Daisuke if we get hurt or captured,” he said firmly, jogging towards them. “Daisuke has Veemon, and Veemon can armour evolve – he can get stronger – which is more than our digimon can do right now. We need to get moving and come back for Daisuke later. Let’s go.” Miyako was still sobbing in to her gloves, but she at least allowed Sora to take her elbow and start moving.

“Piyomon!” Sora called over her shoulder. She dropped down towards them like a rock, each stroke of her wings laboured.

“Are we leaving?” she asked. When Sora nodded she sagged in relief. “Good. I know just the place we can hide.”

And so they’d taken off sprinting. Sora carried Piyomon in her arms and tried to ignore just how much she was almost enjoying the familiar adrenaline rush that came with running for their lives. Piyomon chirped out directions as they ran, guiding them over a nearby hillock an into a dense forest which seemed to sprout out of nowhere. Tentomon flew a few yards behind the group, updating them on just how dangerously close Snimon was to them (which wasn’t helping Miyako’s oncoming panic attack). Then, at last, Tentomon cried: “He’s retreating!”

They ran a little while longer before Taichi finally allowed them to stop, and Sora leant heavily against a nearby tree. The low buzzing was quickly fading, and within seconds the world was silent aside from heavy breathing and the rustling of leaves. Sora let Piyomon drop to the floor as she massaged a stitch that had worked its way into her shoulder. Miyako fell heavily to her knees; she had stopped crying, at least, but there was still a shadow of terror lingering in her eyes. Iori was staring back the way they’d come, as though terrified that something else might jump out at them the moment they turned their backs.

Sora knew the feeling all too well.

“Come on!” Piyomon chirped, ruffling her feathers with a smile. “It’s not far now!”

“What – is?” Koushiro wheezed.

“There’s something we need to show you!” Tentomon buzzed.

“This way!” said Piyomon, taking flight. Sora laughed weakly.

“You might have had a rest, but we’re exhausted.” She glanced to Taichi who was slouched against a tree and staring down at his hand; running his thumb in small circles across the crest of light. After a moment he stuffed it back in to his pocket and pushed away from the tree.

“We should keep moving,” he said. “Piyomon, Tentomon, what do you want to show us?” The two shared an uncertain glance before answering.

“We’re… not sure,” Piyomon answered at last, “but we know it’s important!” Taichi pursed his lips, his fingers twitching with in his pockets, before he nodded.

“Then let’s go,” he said. He glanced back through the trees. “If we stay here too long, Snimon might come after us again.” Miyako shot to her feet with a terrified yelp as Iori stiffened, and Sora gave Taichi a pointed stare which he pretended to ignore as he turned away to follow Piyomon and Tentomon.

As they walked, Sora kept a wary eye on Taichi who kept a pace and a half in front of everyone else with stoic reserve, and Sora almost – almost – felt grateful that he didn’t once glance back over his shoulder. If he had, he might have seen the smile she couldn’t quite suppress as she watched after Piyomon. All at once it felt like an eternity and yet like no time at all since they had last been here; like everything had changed whilst at the same time staying the same. Through the trees she caught glimpses of abandoned vending machines and roadsigns pointing to nowhere, and the bizarre whimsy of the world that she had once found so strange now felt so comforting she wondered how she’d ever been able to leave it all behind.

Then again, she mused, it hadn’t exactly been a choice.

Miyako’s wail brought her back to reality, and as Sora pulled herself from her thoughts she found that they had come to a stop before a large temple. The tall, ancient stone had been fashioned into a tiered pyramid with miles of stairs carved in to the front face. Sora’s heart fell as she eyed the climb.

“And there’s no way you can bring this thing down to us?” she asked with a strained smile. Piyomon shook her head and Sora sighed, following close behind Taichi as they began the ascent.

By the time they reached the top, Sora’s thighs were burning and her calves felt like they were going to seize up with every step. No game of tennis or soccer had ever taken so much of her breath away. She leant heavily against the stone pillars, resting sweaty palms on trembling knees, and was happy to see that she wasn’t the worst in the group. In fact, with the exception of Taichi, she was perhaps the least affected by their climb. Iori stood firm at the top of the staircase, but there was no denying the flush to his cheeks and the slight sway to his steps while Koushiro and Miyako both looked worse for wear, with matching faces of tomato red and beads of sweat that rolled in to their eyes.

“What are they?” Taichi asked quietly, and Sora almost jumped at his voice. She shrugged her way out of her blazer, using it to mop the sweat from her eyes as she approached Taichi, following his line of sight.

At the far end of the temple sat two pillars of ornately carved stone, and each balanced a square, stone slab at the top. Upon the pillars sat two strange egg-like trinkets no bigger than a soccer ball, one silver and one gold. On the right, the ‘egg’ looked almost like a helmet, with two silver wings on either side. The other was sleeker, with a gold, panelled body and the tiniest silver horn on the top. But what was most surprising, Sora thought as they drew closer, was that the silver ‘egg’ bore the crimson crest of Love, whilst the gold had the crest of Knowledge engraved on its front.

Sora shared a wordless look with Koushiro as they came to a halt before the pedestals and Koushiro nodded. Together they stepped forwards, reaching out to the pedestals, but the warm metal seared her fingers and sent a painful rush of fire racing up her arms. Koushiro’s fingers sparked and he shook out his hands with a series of muttered curses. She saw Taichi step forwards from the corner of her eye, but before he could ask if they were okay Sora had gripped the egg once more.

Nothing happened.

She tried again, tugging with all her strength, but it didn’t budget. She stepped back with a huff, almost happy that Koushiro hadn’t had any better luck. Piyomon and Tentomon both visibly deflated, and Piyomon nuzzled her head against Sora’s burning calf with a sigh.

“We’re sorry, Sora,” she murmured. “We thought they were important.” Sora crouched down, ignoring the ache in her thighs as she scratched the back of Piyomon’s head.

“I’m sure they are,” she said with a smile. “Did you try to move them?” Piyomon nodded.

“We’ve been trying since we found them, but we couldn’t get them to move,” she sighed. “We thought maybe they needed humans to move them, but we didn’t know how to make you come back. We thought they would be for you because they had your crests on them.” Taichi jerked suddenly, his head snapping from the eggs towards Miyako and Iori who were hovering some paces back. Sora could see the gears in his mind working overtime until at last he lifted his chin.

“Why don’t you guys try?” he asked. Sora raised her eyebrow and glanced at Koushiro who was nodding.

“That’s a good idea, Taichi,” he said. “These could be digimentals, like the one that Daisuke has. If that’s the case, then maybe they aren’t ours after all, but rather for the new Chosen.”

“Ch-chosen?” Miyako squeaked. Sora nodded and stood, reaching out to take Miyako’s hand and uncurl her fingers from around her red digivice.

“The Digital World has chosen you, just like it chose us,” she said, giving Miyako’s hand a reassuring squeeze. Iori straightened slightly.

“We might as well try, Miyako,” he said solemnly. “We came all this way, after all.” Miyako glanced to Iori and then back to Sora before nodding. She and Iori stepped forwards – Miyako to the crest of Love and Iori to the crest of Knowledge – and they looked at each other from the corner of their eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath and reached towards the eggs.

Light as a feather they came away from their platforms with such ease that Miyako almost threw hers clean over her shoulder. The pair looked at each other, bewildered, and their eyes moved to the eggs for the briefest moment before the temple was filled with a blinding light.

Sora span away, pressing her face into her blazer and clenching her eyes shut against the glare. After a moment the glare dimmed and Sora peeked out from behind her arms to see that the light had formed two pillars – one red and one purple – with a silhouette slowly forming in the center. After a moment, one sprouted wings and feathers, while the other curled up in to a tight ball, wrapping its tail around itself. The light dimmed, and the silhouettes became digimon who perched neatly on the platforms, shaking and stretching.

The bird looked up first, setting its sharp eyes on Miyako. Its talons were yellow with gleaming white claws, and its body was covered in thick maroon feathers with small black plumes on its elbows and large black feathers at the tips of its wings, almost like fingers. Its head was covered in fine cream feathers, with a red mark under each blue eye and three more marks in the centre of its brow, partially obscured by the black leather belt that encircled its head and secured a single yellow-tipped feather.

“Ah, it feels so good to be able to stretch my winds,” the bird said, stretching and shaking his head (and the voice was definitely a male voice). Gracefully he hopped down from the plinth and ducked in to a low bow before Miyako. “Greetings! My name is Hawkmon, and I’ve been waiting to make your acquaintance!” He straightened and puffed out his feathery chest, which caused Miyako to stumble back a little.

“Are you… talking?” she breathed. “Wait – are you talking to me?!” Hawkmon sniffed a little and studied Miyako closely.

“Of course. Whom else would I be speaking to?” he asked. Miyako didn’t seem to have an answer to that.

Meanwhile, the other digimon had landed in front of Iori. Covered in segmented gold plate, the creature’s scaly skin beneath was a vibrant yellow, with stark silver claws that clacked against the temple floor as it stepped closer to Iori. Three scaly tufts emerged from either side of the armour on the digimon’s head, which was decorated with a red diamond, two red stripes on either side, and trimmed in white.

“Howdy!” he greeted in a strong, heavy drawl. “The name’s Armadimon. I was having quite a nice nap until you woke me up. Think my shell’s still sleeping...” He glanced back over his shoulder and wobbled his shell from side to side with a frown. Iori stared wide-eyed at Armadillomon for a moment before seeming to remember his manners and offering a formal, polite introduction. Sora almost chuckled as the little boy snapped to attention and dropped in to a stiff bow. Miyako meanwhile had taken Hawkmon’s black feather-fingers and was stretching his wing to examine him further.

A sudden thud made Sora jump, and she span around to face the entrance to the temple. A hulking digimon stood silhouetted by the sunlight – a menacing figure with two large tusks sprouting from his head. It was almost as broad as the temple’s entrance with great big arms and fists, one of which seemed to be holding a long, spiked club. Taichi was the first to react, jumping to the front of the group and spreading his arms wide, and moments later Biyomon and Tentomon stood at his side. Sora placed herself behind Taichi’s shoulder, not too sure how much good she’d really be able to do, but having Koushiro fall in beside her made her feel a little more confident. To the rear, Miyako wailed again as Hawkmon and Armadimon took their places before their respective partners.

The lumbering figure drew closer, each step knocking years of dust from the ceiling. Sora saw Taichi retrieve his digivice from his pocket and grip it tightly at his side. Sora did the same, clutching the little device so hard she thought it might break. The creature was only paces away now, and the closer he drew the more he blocked the bright sunlight. Slowly his features faded in to view – sharp spikes on his green shoulders, a jaw fixed wide open in a silent roar with rows of shining teeth, red linen wrapped around a leg and a forearm with navy cuffs opposing, and a mane of wild, silver hair that tumbled down the digimon’s back. As the light splashed across his deep furrowed brow and glinted off the silver tusks, Sora straightened with relief as Ogremon came to a halt before them, his brow furrowed.

“Hey, don’t I know you?”

Chapter Text


OLD RELIABLE


“Wow! You have no idea how great it is to see you guys again!” With what Koushiro supposed was a smile, Ogremon stepped forwards and swept him in to a hug along with Taichi, Sora, Piyomon and Tentomon. After a tight squeeze, the digimon’s eyes found Iori and Miyako, and he prodded both of them with a large finger. “New friends?” he asked cheerfully. Iori’s face paled and Miyako swayed a little as though about to collapse, but Hawkmon rushed to her side and clutched her hand tightly.

“Yeah, this is their first time,” said Taichi. “Ogremon, have you seen-”

“You have to come to the village!” Ogremon boomed. “Everyone will be so happy to see you! Shame you weren’t here a couple of days ago - Leomon’s just left. He found me a few days ago - just like old times! Only now I’m much stronger than he ever was, so he knows not to even try and fight me.” Ogremon grinned and slung his club over his shoulder, puffing out his chest. “He’s gone back to help Elecmon at Primary Village, but I still know some guys who’ll be glad to see you. Come on! This way!”

“Wait, Ogremon!” Sora called. “One of our friends is missing. We need to try and find him.” Ogremon tilted his head thoughtfully, scratching the back of his neck with the end of his club.

“Does he have spiky fur on his head? And flames on his body?”

“Yes! Did you see him?” she asked. Ogremon’s face fell and his shoulders drooped.

“Sorry... If I’d’ve known he was a friend of yours I would’ve gone after ‘em.”

“Them?” Taichi asked.

“It’s the Kaiser... I came runnin’ when I heard all the commotion, but by the time I got there the Kaiser was comin’ down to pull someone outta the rubble.”

“We have to go after them,” said Taichi, drawing himself up taller with the kind of resolve Koushiro hadn’t seen for too long. “If this Kaiser thinks he can mess with our friends-”

“What can we do, Taichi?” Sora interrupted. “Our partners can’t digivolve, and Hawkmon and Armadimon have only just… They’re too inexperienced. Let’s go with Ogremon; maybe whoever he knows at the village might be able to help us.”

“He’ll be damn glad to see you, I know that much,” Ogremon answered, his spirits lifting.

 “But, Daisuke-”

“Has Fladramon,” Sora interrupted. Koushiro didn’t miss the way Taichi glanced to Miyako and Iori, still holding the strange trinkets and staring in open-mouthed fear at Ogremon. Sora noticed too, and she tugged on Taichi’s hand gently. “Let’s get somewhere safe, and then we’ll make a plan.” It took a long moment for Taichi to decide, but eventually he sagged slightly and nodded, motioning for Ogremon to lead the way.

Koushiro followed cautiously, his legs screaming in protest as they made their way back down the stairs. Koushiro hung back deliberately, stealing glimpses of the gleaming items that he decided must also be Digimentals, much like the item Daisuke had described to them. Koushiro wanted to believe that Daisuke was okay, but until he saw these Digimentals working and figured out just how they managed to circumvent the Kaiser’s attempts to stop any unauthorised digivolutions he reserved the right to remain skeptical.

Ogremon waited for them at the bottom but he barely gave them a moment to catch their breath before taking off again. The giant digimon seemed shorter than Koushiro remembered, although he assumed that was because he was now taller himself, having undergone a growth spurt just before entering middle school. Still, each of the digimon’s easy strides were three or four of Koushiro’s, and he found himself panting to keep up.

“So who do we know at this village?” Taichi asked, and Koushiro couldn’t ignore the hope in his voice.

“Oh you’ll see!” Ogremon announced cryptically. “A few of us have ended up here since the Dark Masters were defeated, but now there’s a new evil coming for us.”

“The Kaiser,” Sora supplied. She and Taichi both seemed to be handling Ogremon’s strides with ease.

“That’s the one,” Ogremon agreed solemnly. “It wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t just so good at being evil. He’s got these towers that he puts up over any village he conquers so that no-one can digivolve without his permission, and then he has these collars; he calls them Dark Rings. They latch on to you and take all the good out of you until there’s nothing left, and then he controls you.”

“That’s horrible!” Sora gasped. Koushiro shuddered; Daisuke had mentioned something about dark rings and mind control, but the thought of having all the goodness taken out of you until nothing but darkness remained was chilling. Ogremon nodded, but he flashed her a smile.

“There are rumours that the rings can be broken, and if that happens then a digimon goes right back to being normal again. I heard it from a Geckomon who heard it from a Tsubumon who heard it from a Monochromon who managed to get away,” he answered. “Ah! Here we are! Careful, mind your step.”

Though the tree trunks here were fewer, they were thicker and taller, and their leaves interlocked above into a canopy that hadn’t seemed to break since they’d found the temple, and Koushiro wasn’t quite sure how Ogremon had been able to identify where ‘here’ began until he caught up to the giant and found himself staring over the crest of the mound they had been slowly climbing.

The light that filtered through the leaves was sparse and speckled with shadows, but it was bright enough to see the mismatched village that filled out the small bowl in the landscape. The huts were made from trees or mud or woven grass; some were small with large doorways, while others were wide with small doors, and others were tall with no doors at all, only high windows to allow access to their flying inhabitants. Ogremon pointed out the largest hut in the centre, which was a round structure of woven grass with a shallow roof just steep enough, Koushiro imagined, to avoid pools of rain in poor weather.

“That’s where we’re headed,” Ogremon announced, descending towards the village.

As they drew closer, Koushiro couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the thick tension that hung in the air. The humidity certainly hadn’t changed, and the weather had yet to turn since their arrival, so Koushiro could only assume that it came from the digimon. As he examined the inhabitants of the village, he quickly noted the pattern – each digimon sported some kind of injury, which had been patched up by worn fabric bandages or vines woven in to a sling or wrapped around a splint. Koushiro looked as best he could at each treatment, and after passing his third sprained wing (amongst other injuries) he felt a strange excitement bubbling in his gut.

They rounded the final hut and Koushiro’s suspicions were all but confirmed as he saw that the central construction bore a large entrance with two white pennants hanging on either side, each bearing a meticulously hand-painted red cross. He felt the smile spreading across his face as a small cluster of digimon hobbled and hopped and rolled from the makeshift clinic, and a moment later it was a human hand pushing the cloth doorway aside, dabbing a small rag against his forehead and readjusting his all-too-familiar glasses.

“Jou!” Taichi was the first to shout, and from the gaping mouth of the hut Jou nudged his glasses and squinted at them for a moment before his jaw dropped in disbelief. He sputtered several times before walking towards slowly towards them, squinting and gawking.

“It’s – it’s you!” he cried, rushing forwards. “I can’t believe it – you’re really here!”

Taichi greeted him first, pulling him in to a fierce hug. Sora came next, a little less rough, and finally Koushiro awkwardly embraced the self-made doctor. Despite Koushiro’s growth spurt as he graduated junior school Jou still towered above him, and he was still as lanky as Koushiro remembered with long, wiry limbs and slender, nimble fingers. His glasses were held together with thin twine, but other than the occasional smudge of dirt on the large lenses they were still relatively intact. No doubt having physically outgrown the khaki shorts and wool vest of his youth Jou wore loose, beige pants and a long, off-white jacket that could have almost passed for a doctor’s coat. Underneath, he wore a threadbare t-shirt a few sizes too small, and his feet were covered in a pair of dark, fabric slippers. Despite whatever might have occurred since they’d last met, Jou had managed to keep his hair neatly trimmed to the base of his neck, and in the speckled daylight it looked just as blue-black as it always had.

With an eager grin on his face, Jou led them inside the large hut. Inside, several woven grass screens cornered off impromptu rooms, and Jou navigated through to the back where a long trestle table had been set up underneath part of the hut which opened in to a canopy. Outside of the awning’s shade several digimon tended to a long, narrow fire pit over which they roasted fish, foul, fruit and vegetables. A smaller fire was home to a whistling kettle, and as Jou approached a small olive-coloured digimon with stubby little arms offered them all wooden cups filled with an earthy tea.

“So how did you get here?” Jou asked once the introductions were over and Jou had passed around a plate of oat biscuits that were so dry Koushiro had to wash them down with several gulps of tea.

“The gate’s open again, or so it would appear,” Koushiro answered. He gestured towards Iori and Miyako. “It seems the new Chosen have a different digivice to the rest of us, and it enables them to come and go as they please, I believe; I’d like to run a few tests though, just to be absolutely certain.” Jou nodded and looked as though he wanted to say more, but Taichi spoke first.

“Have you seen any of the others?" he asked eagerly. Jou swallowed his tea, wide-eyed.

"The others?" he asked. Koushiro watched as Taichi's shoulders sagged again, and he stared into his tepid tea.

"You weren't the only one to be left behind," Koushiro said quietly. "Yamato, Takeru and Hikari didn't make it home with us either." Jou leant back in his chair and swirled his tea absently.

"And here I thought I was the only one," he mused. "I haven't seen anyone - not even Gennai. I found Ogremon and Leomon at Primary Village, but by the time I got there they said the gate had closed and there was no way for me to get home. We tried searching for another way but... well, I saw how many digimon had been hurt by the Dark Masters and I knew I had to help somehow. It only seemed right. And just as well, seeing as how things have gone since the Kaiser came along…”

"And the Kaiser hasn't found you yet?" Koushiro asked. Jou shook his head solemnly.

"We've moved a couple of times since the Kaiser arrived," he answered, "but it's not been easy. You'd think we'd be a prime target, but I don't think the Kaiser wants injured digimon. He seems to wait until they head home and attacks them on their way. If we move at night, we have a higher chance of surviving capture, but even when the Kaiser isn't watching his sentries are." His grip on the cup tightened, and Koushiro took the time to glance around. Everywhere the digimon huddled together, casting wary eyes at the newcomers - or, more precisely, the new humans. Koushiro sipped his tea in the silence, watching as Jou's shoulders began to tremble, and something about the silence that followed and the empty space at Jou’s side finally settled the nagging feeling at the back of Koushiro’s mind.

"He has Gomamon, doesn't he?" Koushiro asked quietly. Jou nodded, his eyes never leaving his cup.

"The last time we were found, Gomamon stayed behind to try and buy us some time," he said quietly. "He told me he'd found a way to bypass the Kaiser's control over digivolutions, but he... he couldn't. Now the Kaiser has Ikkakumon under his control. He doesn't even recognise me." He slammed the cup against the table, causing several injured Gotsumon to jump in surprise. A moment of tense silence passed through the air.

“He has Agumon, too,” said Taichi, his voice dangerous in a way it had not been since the gate had first closed and he’d been forced to face the fact that life moved on. Koushiro shivered.

"But it's not permanent, remember?” Sora offered softly, placing a hand on Taichi’s trembling elbow. Jou sighed heavily, running his thumb absently around the lip of his cup.

“They’re just rumours,” he sighed. Sora shook her head.

“Daisuke, another of the new Chosen, he's seen it. If the Kaiser's Dark Ring is broken, the digimon return to normal."

"But how do we break them?" Jou asked, defeated. "The digimon don't have the strength to fight, and with nobody able to digivolve... it's hopeless."

"Not quite," said Hawkmon, stepping forwards. He turned his attention to Miyako. "Miyako, if you would please hold up the Digimental and repeat after me: Digimental Up!” Koushiro sat up a little taller, eager to see the Digimental in action, and he watched with baited breath as Miyako did as instructed.

Hawkmon was engulfed in a bright light, and as he underwent his transformation Armadimon urged Iori to do the same with the Digimental of Knowledge. Their glowing bodies twisted in mid-air behind a flickering curtain of data, growing wings and claws and armour and, most importantly, growing bigger.

"Prodigious!" Koushiro exclaimed as the light faded. Holsmon introduced himself with a deep, grumbling voice and a fluttering of his mauve feathers that covered him from shoulder to hide and along the tips of his wings. Gleaming claws gripped the dirt underfoot, though they were dull in comparison to the eagle-like digimon’s gleaming helm which, much like its Digimental, sprouted two silver wings that emerged at his temples and canted back. Next to him, Armadimon’s evolved form introduced himself as Digmon. His golden shell had become golden armour marked here and there with stripes of brilliant purple, and his silver claws had become glinting silver drills that whirled furiously.

Taichi and Sora were staring at the Armour digimon with open awe whilst Iori and Miyako were struck dumb with shock, both gaping at the new forms of their partners. But it was Jou who drew Koushiro's attention; he was staring slack-jawed at the pair, and as a slow smile began to creep over his face as his eyes began to glisten with tears. He drank in their every detail, examining each burgundy feather and gold plate with silent reverence.

After a moment, he dashed the tears from his eyes and stood from the table. By now the newly-evolved digimon had drawn quite a crowd, and Jou’s apparent patients had formed a tight circle around them as they stared up in awe.

Twin chimes echoed through the excited bubble of chatter, and Iori and Miyako glanced down to their devices.

“What’s that?” Miyako asked, squinting at the screen. Iori glanced up, catching Koushiro’s eye.

“May I?” Koushiro asked, gesturing towards the device. Iori handed it over and Koushiro glanced down at the screen which was displaying a collection of dots. A cluster in the centre of the screen – four white, one red, and one yellow – and one blue dot in the upper right corner. No, two dots – one of them was black.

“Is it a map?” Sora asked, peering over Miyako’s shoulder. Koushiro fished out his own digivice, finding the same dots on his screen, though all of his were white.

“It looks like a more advanced version of the tracking programme that’s installed on our digivices,” he said, holding them side by side and showing them to Iori and Taichi.

“So that blue dot, is that Daisuke?” Taichi asked. “His digivice is blue.”

“Most likely,” Koushiro said with a nod.

“And the other that’s with him,” Jou asked, his trembling fingers holding his digivice. “Could that be the Kaiser?” Koushiro shivered but nodded.

“It’s… it’s possible,” he said. Sora gave him a strange look and he swallowed thickly. “More than possible, I suppose, given that Ogremon saw the Kaiser take Daisuke.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Taichi exclaimed. He shot to his feet and readjusted his goggles in an all-too-familiar gesture. "Let's move out!"

The pounding in his head was the first sign that he was still alive, followed by a sharp sting in his elbows and knees. He remembered tumbling and falling through the ground, reaching for Veemon's tail and slipping, more falling... He grimaced at the pain in his shoulder blades, and realised absently that he could feel rock against his back and nothing underfoot, and yet he definitely felt right-side-up. With a confused groan he slowly opened his eyes.

He instantly wished he hadn’t. He was dangling over a giant ravine that seemed to stretch for miles in either direction, bound to the rocky wall by metal manacles around his wrists and ankles. He couldn’t stop himself from glancing down, and he swallowed his lunch a second time as he saw just how far he could fall.

“Enjoying your stay?” came a cruel voice. Daisuke craned his neck to find the source, and he finally spied the silhouette of a caped boy on the bluff above.

“I’ve been to better hotels,” Daisuke called back. “Your room service is terrible. Any chance of an upgrade?” He almost thought he heard the Kaiser chuckle.

“I’m sure we can turn this single in to a double,” the Kaiser mocked. With a sharp snap of his fingers Daisuke suddenly heard the sound of stone grinding on stone, and he turned his head just in time to see a slab turning on the other side of the mesa to reveal Veemon, also bound by manacles fixed to the wall at his wrists and ankles. The small digimon set his large eyes on Daisuke and grinned.

“Hiya Daisuke!” he shouted. “Great view!”

“C’mon, Veemon, let’s do this. Digimental-”

“Now, now,” the Kaiser interrupted. “I believe you need these if you’re going to cause me any trouble.” Daisuke craned his neck again, staring up at the Kaiser who was holding something in his hands. Daisuke groaned, knowing from the Kaiser’s voice alone that those gloved hands held his digivice and D-Terminal.

“ Gimme those back, you coward!” he shouted. “Or are you afraid to fight me?” The Kaiser chuckled.

“Afraid?” he sneered. “Have you forgotten that you’re the one at my mercy? Insufferable boy.” The word was spat like an insult and Daisuke scowled.

“You’re as much of a boy as I am!” Daisuke returned, which earned a furious growl in response.

“I am nothing like you!” he snapped. Daisuke winced as a gust of wind sprayed his face with dust and debris. He coughed, closing his streaming eyes against the onslaught.

“Oh yeah? Prove it!” he spluttered. The dust stung his nose and the inside of his mouth. “Gimme my stuff back and fight me!” For the briefest moment Daisuke thought the Kaiser might take him up on the offer, but then the breeze brought the sound of laughter.

“And waste my time on the likes of you?” he sneered. “I don’t think so; even with your little friend and her Tailmon-” He spat the name. “-you wouldn’t stand a chance. Not that they’ll be coming to save you.” Daisuke growled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he shouted over the rising noise. Something was coming, speeding towards them through the ravine. Daisuke glanced nervously at Veemon, who seemed to be trying to give himself vertigo by squinting at the cavern floor far below.

“Only that they were last seen heading north,” the Kaiser replied casually. “They looked so ill-prepared that I doubt they’ll last the night. And if they do, well… I have an army of Frigimon waiting for them.” Daisuke felt his heart twist at the thought of beautiful, kind Hikari. Was she in trouble? He tugged against the restraints again, only to press himself flat against the rock as they began to loosen. No; falling to the bottom of the ravine was not going to help Hikari.

The noise was growing louder, a rhythmic pounding that echoed off the walls, and Daisuke felt his heart began to flutter at the thought of what the Kaiser might have planned for him. He might not know what the hell a Fridge-mon was, but he’d seen enough of Fladramon and Monochromon to know that they were probably dangerous.

“You’re a monster!” he roared.

If the Kaiser had a retort to Daisuke’s accusations, it was lost under the pounding of wings as a crimson blur shot up from the cavern, twisting gracefully through the air. The sunlight bounced off its gleaming helm and momentarily blinded Daisuke. As he squinted against the light, he heard a deep voice cry, “Tempest wing!”

The shadow span quickly, twisting round on itself until, within seconds, it became a maroon-and-silver tornado. It shot forwards, and Daisuke heard the Kaiser grunt as he was thrown back. Daisuke cheered, and moments later the large bird was flying towards him. As it drew closer, Daisuke squinted at the lumps on its back.

“Taichi!” he cried in relief. Miyako waved, and even from a distance Daisuke could see the excited grin on her face. As they neared him, Taichi cupped his hands to his mouth.

“Hey Daisuke,” he called, “how’s it hanging?” Daisuke was too relieved to reply.

The bird reared up in the air, fanning its large wings out on either side as it hovered for a moment. The sun gleamed across its winged silver helmet.

“Mach impulse!” the digimon cried, and two visible gusts formed under the silver wings. They buffeted Daisuke’s body, taking the breath from his lungs and knocking the pins and manacles free from the wall. With a yell he began falling, but not a moment later the digimon had swooped beneath him and Daisuke landed heavily on the bird’s soft feathers. As he began to slip Taichi took his forearm in a tight grip and pulled him back up.

“What about Veemon?” he asked over the rushing wind as the digimon began to turn back on itself. Daisuke looked over his shoulder in a panic, and felt his heart stop as the wall behind Veemon began to shiver and crumble. Veemon began to fall as his restraints shivered away, but as the rocks crumbled two large drills emerged, each attached to the arm of a large digimon, and in the blink of an eye Veemon was cradled against the creature’s strange chest with a goofy grin on his face.

“So who’s this?” Daisuke asked as the bird rose higher in the air.

“This is Holsmon, and that’s Digmon,” Miyako explained, before babbling quickly about how they’d found a temple then an egg then the digimon then a village… Daisuke wasn’t sure if it was just Miyako’s voice or the events of the day, but he was quickly forming a headache.

“A pleasure to meet you,” Holsmon rumbled in a deep tone.

They flew above the top of the ravine, and Daisuke saw the Kaiser. He was facing off against Iori, Koushiro and a blue-haired boy Daisuke didn’t think he’d seen before who stood next to a giant green ogre brandishing a spiked club.

“Let’s go, Holsmon!” Miyako cried, and Holsmon wordlessly banked towards the fight. In a sudden explosion of rock and rubble, Digmon emerged from beneath the ground behind the Kaiser and Veemon jumped high in to the air, launching himself at the Kaiser.

“V-headbutt!” he cried, and his skull hit the Kaiser between his narrow shoulder blades. The boy staggered forwards gasping, and Daisuke’s devices fell from his grip as he tried to regain his balance. He reached for them but Veemon was faster, sweeping them from the dirt and clutching them to his chest as he scurried out of the Kaiser’s reach.

“All right!” Daisuke cheered. The Kaiser looked up at the sky and grimaced before turning to flee into the trees. The green ogre digimon took off after him as Holsmon landed gracefully on the bluff. Quickly Daisuke slipped from Holsmon’s shoulders and scooped Veemon up in his arms.

“You okay, buddy?” he asked. The little digimon grinned.

“Better now we’re back together!” he proclaimed, and Daisuke couldn’t stop the smile that his partner’s voice brought.

“What say we give that Kaiser a piece of our minds?” he asked, dropping Veemon to the ground. Veemon handed him the digivice and D-Terminal, and Daisuke grinned wolfishly.

“Digimental-”

 “I wouldn’t bother, he’s gone,” came a slow, sad voice, and Daisuke looked up to see the ogre emerge from the forest. Daisuke groaned, disappointed; he needed to show Taichi how cool Veemon looked with his armour.

“Gone? How?” Miyako cried.

“He seemed to have a ride waiting,” the digimon answered. “And I had such a good chance to take him down.”

“It’s okay, Ogremon,” Sora said encouragingly, who stood to one side with Koushiro, Tentomon and Piyomon. “You’ll get him next time.”

“Not if someone else gets him first,” Ogremon moaned.

“It’d be selfish for them not to leave some for you,” Taichi joked, patting the large creature on the arm.

As they left the ravine behind them, Daisuke was introduced properly to Jou and Ogremon, and to Hawkmon and Armadimon. Hawkmon, Daisuke quickly decided, was uptight, stuffy and stubborn, and just as head-pounding-ly annoying as Miyako. Armadimon on the other hand was laid back and hungry, something Daisuke could at least relate to even if Iori was stiff as a reed.

Jou was quiet and reserved, but also interesting. Like Hikari, he had been left behind several years ago when their adventures had come to an end, but while Hikari and her meagre belongings had given Daisuke the impression that she was constantly on the move, travelling from place to place, Jou’s temporary village and his collection of helpers left quite the opposite impression.

After letting the hungry digimon have their fill of rice cakes and oat biscuits and tea, Daisuke led them back to where they’d come from and pointed out the small television set that perched on a mound of dirt.

“I’ve seen that a few times, but it’s never been turned on before,” Jou mused aloud as they approached.

“That’s how we’re getting home,” Daisuke announced, rushing towards the set. “You just hold up your digivice and – wham – through you go.”

“Although it only seems to work with the newer models,” Sora added.

“It’ll be so great to have you back again, Jou,” Koushiro said happily as they approached. At the sudden silence that fell over the group, Daisuke halted and turned back to face them, noting that Jou had stopped several paces away. “Jou?” Koushiro prompted.

“You’re not coming back, are you?” Taichi asked quietly. Jou shook his head.

“I can’t leave; the digimon are depending on me to help them,” Jou answered.

“But you can’t just spend your whole life here,” Sora reasoned.

“I won’t,” the taller boy replied. “I will come home, just as soon as I know that the digimon will be able to take care of themselves. They’re fast learners; I’m sure it won’t take long.” Koushiro glanced at Sora, who returned the look nervously. Daisuke saw Miyako and Iori exchange awkward glances.

“Then I’m staying too,” Taichi announced. At once, Sora and Koushiro spouted a number of objections, but Taichi shook his head. “I can’t leave without finding Hikari. I won’t rest until I know she’s safe.”

“Taichi,” Sora started hesitantly, and Daisuke saw the way she looked at Miyako then Iori and then to him before stepping closer. Daisuke had to strain to hear her. “What about your mother?” Taichi’s jaw set firmly and his hands clenched to fists at her side.

“Dad can take care of her.” His voice faltered as he said it, and with a heavy sigh he dropped his head. “I don’t want to leave… not without seeing her…”

“I know you don’t,” Sora murmured, taking his hand gently in hers, “but Hikari’s survived this long. Right now, your mother needs you. You know as well as I do that she couldn’t bear to lose you too.” Taichi said nothing.

“Don’t worry, Taichi,” Jou said with sad smile. “I’ll start spreading the word and we’ll try and track her down. I’m sure she and Tailmon are just fine.” Around his feet, the digimon nodded their agreement. Taichi managed a small half-smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Thanks guys,” he said in a heavy voice, before wordlessly waving goodbye and heading towards the television. Sora quickly squeezed Piyomon tightly before rushing after him, linking her delicate hands around his elbow and talking quietly to him. Koushiro and the others bid a quiet goodbye to their respective partners, and as Koushiro said goodbye to Jou the taller gripped his arm lightly and pulled him close.

“What’s up with Taichi’s mom?” he asked quietly. Koushiro glanced at Daisuke from the corner of his eye.

“This isn’t the best time,” he mumbled before making his way to the gate. Daisuke watched him go, wanting to ask the same question, but he was distracted by Veemon tugging at his sleeve.

“Do you have to go?” Veemon asked. Daisuke nodded.

“Sorry buddy, I’ve got to,” he answered. “But I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Really?” His golden eyes flickered with hope, and Daisuke rubbed his head roughly.

“Definitely!” he said with a grin. “So don’t get in to any trouble while I’m gone, okay?”

“Not without you, I won’t!”

Daisuke was still grinning when they emerged in the computer room in a tangle of limbs and groans. Tentatively they disentangled themselves and rose to their feet. Taichi was the first to leave, waving a silent goodbye and walking from the room, defeated, and Sora slipped out with him. Miyako and Iori left next, babbling excitedly about their adventure, and as Daisuke turned to close the door behind him he suddenly remembered the Kaiser’s cruel words and he swore under his breath.

“Daisuke?” Koushiro asked. “Is something wrong?” Daisuke shuffled back inside, staring at his feet.

“The Kaiser said something about Hikari,” he mumbled. “I wanted to tell Taichi, but then we got distracted and… well, I only just remembered...” He trailed off sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck and finally looking at Koushiro who was waiting expectantly for him to continue. “He said Hikari and Tailmon were heading north, but that they… they’d either freeze to death or be destroyed by some fridge-mon he had waiting up there.” Koushiro frowned heavily, and the nod that followed was silent and solemn.

“Whatever you do,” he said slowly, “don’t tell Taichi. He wouldn’t take it well.” Daisuke blinked in surprise and Koushiro folded his arms, almost speaking more to himself. “She’s survived this long; she’ll be able to last one more night. She was fine when you saw her, right?” Daisuke nodded, caught off-guard by the unexpected question. “As I suspected. Taichi is very protective when it comes to Hikari; if he thinks she might be in danger he won’t rest until he finds her, and that won’t end well.” Daisuke frowned as he thought about it. Of course Hikari had survived in the Digital World, and she had Tailmon to defend her, but the thought of the small, beautiful girl standing her ground alone against a Monochromon or a Snimon or any other sort of ‘mon was enough to make his stomach turn. During his silence, Koushiro settled back down in front of the computer.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m trying to make a programme that can scan the Digital World for digivice signals,” he explained, tapping furiously at the keyboard. “Jou still had his, and I imagine Hikari and the others have theirs too. If we know where they are, perhaps we can try and redirect the gate so we can find them.”

“Won’t you get kicked out?” Daisuke asked. Koushiro shrugged and turned for a moment to smile at him.

“I’ve done this before,” he said. “The custodians usually come to this room last, and when they turn up I just tell them I’m working on a big project.” He turned back, and the tapping resumed. “Besides, if I can work out how the digital gate functions, I may be able to replicate it on my computer at home, so we wouldn’t have to meet here every time. Oh, I wonder if this will work…” And suddenly Koushiro’s full attention was focused on the screen. Daisuke’s quiet goodbye went unanswered, and he slipped slowly from the room.

Chapter Text

 


TEARS AND TROLLEY CARS


“Can’t we just have a little more time?” Sora begged. “Please, Gennai-”

“I’m sorry, Sora, this is out of my control,” he said. “In just a few moments, the gate will close forever.” In the sky, the shadow had travelled almost completely across the sun until only a sliver of light remained. Taichi clenched his fists painfully and cast his eyes around the trees.

Where are you, Hikari?

“And the others?” Koushiro asked.

“Don’t worry, we’ll look out for them!” Tentomon exclaimed proudly. Mimi was clutching her hat to her chest tearfully as she looked around their small group.

“And when I find them, I’ll send them on their way,” Gennai promised with a solemn nod.

 “What if they can’t make it back through?” Mimi sniffed, wiping her tears on the back of her gloves.

“You said the gate would close forever,” said Koushiro. The corners of Gennai’s lips curled in to something akin to a smile.

“’Forever’ is a word that tends to be used rather loosely round here,” he said. “It’s probably more factual to say that we just don’t know when the gate will open next, but I’m sure I’ll find a way. And if all else fails, I’m sure Hikari’s light will find its way back to you all. I know she wouldn’t want to be separated from any of you, especially you, Taichi.” Taichi ground his teeth together at the mention of his sister’s name. The thought of her out there, all alone, without him…

“I’m not going,” he growled. He heard Sora take a deep breath, and Mimi hiccupped as another wave of tears took over and she bawled in to her hat.

“Taichi, we have to go,” said Sora, and he heard her voice crack painfully.

“Not without her,” he said, turning to stare at another patch of foliage. “She’s coming, she’ll be here any minute. I know she will.” He saw the sun in the corner of his eye; the gate was closing, and fast.

“As much as I hate to say it, we can’t stay, Taichi,” Koushiro intoned. “The Digital World has to rebuild, and we have to go home.”

“And what about the others?” He finally turned to face their small gathering. Of their group of eight, only four of them had made it to the trolley car. Taichi and Agumon had managed to find their way to Primary Village where they regrouped with Gennai who had escorted them and their partners to the small beach where they’d spent their first night. Mimi had been waiting by the time they had arrived, hugging Palmon tightly and weeping in to her hat. As Gennai had made his way back to Primary Village to find the others, Ogremon had brought a rather dazed Koushiro and equally-stunned Tentomon in to the clearing. Finally, as the sun had started to darken with the opening of the gate, Gennai, Sora and Piyomon had appeared. In a solemn voice, Gennai had told them that a number of digimon had ventured forth to try and find their remaining companions, but that the chances of them being found before the gate closed were slim. Taichi drew himself up to his full height and planted his feet in the in the sand. “If they can stay here, why can’t we?”

“It’s not like they’re choosing to, Tai,” Sora stated in a hollow voice. She took another deep breath, this one slow and steady. “We have to go home. We have to tell y-your parents, and Yamato’s dad and Takeru’s mom and Jou’s family… We have to-” Her voice shivered and she sniffed. “We have to tell them that… that everyone’s okay-”

“But we don’t know that!” Taichi yelled. “We don’t know they’re okay! How am I supposed to go home without at least seeing her again? How, Sora?”

“Don’t yell at me – it's not my fault!” she snapped, drawing herself up tall and standing so close he could smell the salt and sweat of their final battle. Her eyes were spilling a waterfall of silent tears, and a desperate fire burned in to him. Her shoulders shook with rage and anger and fear, and when she spoke again her voice was barely above a whisper. “I don’t want to lose you too, Taichi. Please come back with us.” Taichi eyed the tree line again and clenched his fists. After a moment, a large claw linked itself through Taichi’s fingers.

“We still have a few more minutes,” Gennai said solemnly. “Why don’t you get on the trolley car, and we’ll wait to see if they turn up.”

“C’mon, Taichi, please,” Sora whimpered, tugging at his hand. “Just get inside.”

“If we’re ready to go, then all they have to do is get on with us,” Koushiro added, as Sora gave Taichi a sharp enough pull that he staggered two steps closer to the shining trolley car. Taichi blinked back the tears and gripped Agumon’s paw tightly.

“I’ll find her, Taichi,” Agumon promised. “I wanted to wave you goodbye, but this is more important. I’ll go get her!” He let go of Taichi’s hand and flashed him a smile. “I’ll find her!” He sped off towards the trees, and after embracing Sora one last time Piyomon followed.

“Goodbye Sora!” she called over her shoulder. “I’ll always remember you!” Sora’s mouth opened but she could only offer a wordless sob, and she clutched her hands to her chest as she followed Koushiro on to the trolley car. Mimi came next, sobbing dry tears. She clutched Palmon’s vines for as long as possible as she walked into the trolley car, and as soon as her hand was free she sped to a window and opened it, clutching the vines again. Taichi rested his hand on the door, one foot on the step and one on the grass, stuck between two paths.

“C’mon, Taichi,” Koushiro said softly, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. Taichi’s chest clenched painfully, and he glanced at the sky. The gate was barely a sliver now, hardly visible against the harsh sunlight that poured around it. Taichi sighed and stepped inside, finding himself a seat by the window. Agumon and Piyomon had reached the trees, and they disappeared from view. Taichi felt his heart leap to his chest.

Hurry, Agumon!

The car jolted, and the wheels began to hiss and squeal beneath them. Taichi blinked, and then his stomach twisted violently as he threw himself from his seat.

“No – No – NO!” he screamed, reaching the doors. He dug his dirty nails into the crease, pulling – tearing – scratching – tugging, but the doors refused to move. “Gennai!” he roared, pounding on the glass. “GENNAI!”

“I’m sorry, Taichi.” He was barely audible over the moving car, which was slowly gathering momentum. Taichi wasn’t sure if it was the growing distance or the realisation of what he’d done, but their mysterious mentor suddenly looked very small.

“GENNAI!” he cried again, slapping his palm against the glass. “Gennai, please! Don’t do this!”

“I have to,” he called back, his voice growing quieter by the moment. “Goodbye, Taichi. I will find them-” Gennai turned suddenly, his attention drawn by a commotion at the treeline, but the car gave a jolt and suddenly they were flying through the air. Taichi pressed himself to the door, desperate to see what could have drawn the old man’s focus. He smacked at Sora’s tentative hand and raced for the window, prying it open wider for a better look. A cry went up behind him, and suddenly there were hands grabbing at his shoulders and his shirt and his arms-

Taichi woke slowly, the dream fading but the memory remaining. He stared at the ceiling and let the tears roll down his cheeks and pool on his pillow. His stomach clenched and his heart skipped several painful beats, and before long Taichi had smothered his face and was heaving painful sobs into the damp pillow. His head pounded, his eyes burned, and his heart was filled with such a painful emptiness that for a minute he thought he wouldn’t ever gather the strength to rise from his bed.

He hadn’t felt this bad in a while, he thought absently as his aching heart resumed its normal rhythm. In fact, the only thing that hurt more than the memory of abandoning his sister was the memory of his mother’s face when he told her; the recollection of the light fading from her eyes as she turned from him and walked away, falling in to his father’s arms, lifting her head long enough to stare at Taichi, her gaze strangely absent, and say in a calm, collected voice:

“You promised to look after her.”

Taichi closed his eyes, trying to rid himself of the memory, but he saw Gennai’s face smiling back at him and he punched his pillow. Gennai had separated them. Gennai had set the car in motion and sent them on their way. Gennai had abandoned Hikari and the others when they had needed him most. Gennai had left Taichi to endure torturous years alone as he watched his parents slip further and further away from each other, and even further from him.

He dragged himself to his feet and in to the bathroom, brushing his hair and his teeth and washing the sleep and tears from his eyes before going back to his room. He pulled on his uniform and stuffed his tie in to his pocket before turning back towards his bed where the crest of Light had been hung around his bedpost. He slipped it around his neck and stood for a moment, clutching at it for strength before he emerged from his room.

“Mom, I’m making breakfast, do you want anything?” he asked as he entered the lounge. The only light came from the television, casting a milky glow over his mother’s skeletal complexion as the cheerful morning show hosts babbled on about some kid genius from a nearby city. His mother was grey now; grey streaks in her hair, and grey skin wrapped like tissue paper around brittle bones. The most colourful thing about her now were the heavy purple bags beneath her vacant brown eyes. Her lips were pale and chapped as he lifted a glass of cool tap water to them.

“You have to eat something,” he whispered. His mother continued to stare at the TV. He doubted she even knew he was there. He sighed and coaxed her in to drinking a few more gulps of water before setting the glass down. “I’ll make you a sandwich. You like sandwiches.”

“Hikari liked sandwiches,” she whispered, and her eyes flicked from the television to the picture of Hikari that sat proudly on top of the mantelpiece. It was Hikari’s first day of school; Taichi remembered it vividly. Hikari had been awake all night with excitement, bouncing around their bedroom, organising and re-organising her pencil case, choosing the perfect barrette at four in the morning. By five AM, she had dressed herself. White socks with a perfectly turned-down lace trim, a pleated white skirt, lemon polo shirt and pale pink cardigan. The barrette had gone from a butterfly to a caterpillar to two white hair grips before finally settling on a single, pink clip. Taichi had laughed as she had fumbled with the accessory; by the time she had secured the grip her fringe had fallen completely in between her eyes, but she couldn’t have been prouder.

Their mother had straightened her already-perfect collar, and tucked a wisp of wild, brown hair behind her ear, and placed a delicate kiss on Hikari’s forehead. Taichi had waited patiently, his hand gripped tightly around the present he’d bought for her first day of school, waiting for the perfect moment to show it to her. It never came. Hikari had tied her own shoes and fastened her own summer coat, and every time she patted at her chest for the missing whistle which had been wrapped in paper and tucked in to Taichi’s pocket, he had been ready to give her his gift. When she followed their mother out of the apartment without a word, grinning from ear to ear as their mother took their picture side by side in the doorway, Taichi had felt his heart sink at the thought she may have outgrown the charm, but the watering eyes as they began their walk to school told him otherwise.

“I’m sorry, Taichi,” she’d whispered in a tiny, trembling voice as her hand clutched at her chest. “I lost it.” She’d burst in to silent tears, and Taichi had blinked in surprise before he’d swallowed over the nervous lump in his throat. He fumbled with his pocket, wrapping his fingers around the present.

“I took it,” he’d offered quietly, pressing the badly-wrapped present in to her hands. “I wanted to make it pretty.” The whistle had hung for years from a thin twine string that Hikari had knotted around her neck. For her birthday Taichi had asked Sora to help him pick out a beautiful pink ribbon, long enough to be tied in to a bow behind her neck. It had cost all of what little pocket money he’d manage to save, but the ear-to-ear smile had made it all worthwhile. She’d slipped it over her head as though the ribbon were made of glass.

She would be found later that day collapsed under the school’s outdoor jungle gym, curled up on the ground and blowing quietly in to the whistle in short, gasping breaths.

Taichi cut through the sandwich with more force than was needed to slice the tender bread, feeling the handle of the knife bite in to the heel of his hand. Anything to stop himself remembering how small Hikari looked in a hospital bed.

The sandwich went untouched, as did the pills that Taichi set out carefully on the counter. His mother didn’t acknowledge him when he told her about the soup in the fridge for her lunch, or when he told her that he’d be late back from school because he’d scheduled an extra soccer practice and then he was going to hang out with Sora. His father was supposed to be home tonight, but Taichi wasn’t holding his breath.

With a heavy sigh, Taichi packed his school bag and soccer kit and headed out into the early morning air.

Santa Geria was peaceful place, offering food and shelter to any who passed through the arid desert, but the once-beautiful landscape had been marred by a towering, black obelisk. The dark needle rose high in to the sky like the point on a sundial, casting a long, menacing shadow that steadily crept over the village. It had been in place by the time Yamato and Gabumon had arrived, but judging by the nervous looks and harsh whispers that surrounded it, it was a new and unwelcome addition to the community.

Much like Yamato, it seemed. Whilst it was fair to admit that Gabumon attracted more than his fair share of wary glances, most eyes turned to Yamato with caution or outright fear that suggested something more than a fear of strangers. It had taken several minutes to convince the locals that Yamato had nothing to do with the giant obelisk, but before he could ask his own questions in return a gathering of Vegiemon had arrived and immediately begun sweeping the town’s citizens towards the central square where, they were told, they would be given further instruction from their new master.

It had been rumours of the Kaiser that had finally drawn Yamato and Gabumon away from their long-term residence to the east of Server. They’d existed for years on their own, ever since the fire, and for months they had been camped at the base of a cliff that bore the Crest of Friendship carved in to its face – a sign, Yamato had decided. If nothing else it was an obvious indicator for anyone who might have been looking for them.

They ventured out every few days to explore the hills and valleys or to visit the village nestled at the foot of the mountains for supplies. It had been here that they had heard news of the Digital World’s would-be ruler, and it had been rumours of an Agumon captured while defending a village inhabited solely by Caprimon that had convinced Yamato that their calling card might soon start to attract the wrong kind of visitor.

Finally the crowd stopped moving and Gabumon tugged hard at Yamato’s sleeve, forcing him to crouch lower to the ground. Yamato nodded silent thanks to his partner; drawing attention to himself probably wasn’t the best thing to do judging by the way the Vegiemon were carefully scrutinising the crowd. Yamato didn’t like their odds if it came to any kind of fight; Gabumon was strong, but even if he could digivolve (which the Gazimon assured them wouldn’t be possible) he would still have been greatly outnumbered.

A silence fell over the crowd and Yamato peeked through the sea of twitching ears to the grand steps at the base of the monument. A single figure emerged from behind the towering stone, decked in navy and gold and silver. His eyes were obscured by dark goggles, and what remained of his face was twisted in to a deep sneer.

“This,” he began with a grand gesture, “is my Dark Tower. It represents my power, and is a reminder that you are under my control. Anyone who attempts to disobey me will face punishment for their crimes. Now step forth, and submit to the new order.” The words were spat with such disdain that Yamato heard himself growl, and Gabumon placed a calming paw on his elbow as the crowd broke out in a furious roar. The Kaiser frowned, and from beneath his cape he withdrew a slender, leather whip which he cracked once. Silence followed.

“I see you can’t be trusted to make the right choice,” he spat coolly. “In that case, perhaps you require a little encouragement.” The whip snapped again, and several tiny shadows emerged from the base of the spire. Yamato squinted at them, and watched in horror as one of the rings latched on to the paw of the nearest Gazimon. The defenceless creature cried out in agony before doubling over on itself. After a moment of shuddering, it stood tall and scanned the crowd with its glowing red eyes. Then, to Yamato’s horrified surprise, it surged forwards and grabbed another of the digimon standing closest, pushing them forwards as though nominating them for the next ring.

Chaos erupted as the Gazimon tried to flee, stumbling and crashing in to each other as the Vegiemon circled them, pressing them in tighter. They were sitting ducks. Gabumon pulled at Yamato’s elbow.

“Yamato, you have to go!” Gabumon hissed. Yamato shook his head.

“No, I’m not leaving-”

“But, Yamato-”

You are.” Gabumon blinked in surprise and Yamato took the opportunity to continue. “He can’t be allowed to get away with this; you have to get help.”

“But why don’t you go?” Gabumon asked, tugging Yamato’s hand desperately. Yamato eyed the rings, which were slowly advancing through the crowd accompanied by the Kaiser’s wicked laugh.

“He’s why,” he said tightly. “You saw the looks we got when we walked in to town; now I know why. I can’t be seen running away. I have to make a stand, something that people will talk about. I need to show them that not all humans are like him.” He was gripping Gabumon’s furry shoulders tightly, and his eyes bore in to his partner’s, praying that Gabumon would understand. When no rebuke came, he pulled his digivice from his belt and placed it in Gabumon’s paw. “They may not trust humans anymore, but they can trust in this. You have to find help.” Gabumon’s paw tightened around the device, but his eyes flicked to the oncoming rings and he hesitated.

“I can’t just leave you behind,” he reasoned. “What if you get captured?”

“Then you’ll have to come save me,” Yamato answered with a grin. “I believe in you, Gabumon. Go! Go!” Gabumon checked over his shoulder, watching the RedVegiemon closing in, but Yamato had seen them. “I’ll cause a distraction – Go!”

Gabumon sucked in a large breath and pushed his way back through the crowd, clutching the digivice close to his chest. As he ran towards the RedVeggimon, Yamato pulled himself upright, towering above the panicked Gazimon.

“Hey!”

The yell wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, but it drew the attention of the square instantly. Most importantly, it drew the attention of the self-styled Kaiser. The boy (and he was only a boy) examined Yamato from behind his goggles before sneering. With another snap of his fingers the RedVegiemon surged forwards, wrapping their thick vines around Yamato’s arms and his neck. As he gasped for air they tugged him through the crowd and forced him to his knees before the Kaiser. The boy slowly descended the stairs.

“A human?” he mused, crouching to Yamato’s eye line. “Well you’re just popping up all over the place, aren’t you? Like rats on a sinking ship, crawling out from the woodwork. Hold him.” The Vegimon’s weedy arms wrapped around Yamato, holding him in place as the Kaiser’s hands rifled through Yamato’s pockets. The Kaiser straightened, having found nothing, and his curious face twisted once more in to a dark glare.

“As I suspected,” he said coolly. “Not even a digivice. You’re pathetic.” He placed a strong hand on Yamato’s shoulder and threw him into the dirt; the action was rewarded by a dark chuckle that rippled through the captive audience. Satisfied, the Kaiser clicked again, turning his back on Yamato.

“Take him away,” he ordered. “I’ll deal with him later.” Yamato was dragged to his feet and he swayed slightly from side to side, feeling suddenly lightheaded. The vine around his neck tightened and he gasped for air, blinking back tears. As he stared towards the outskirts of the village, he saw Gabumon’s gleaming pelt tearing from across the sand. That, at least, gave him some comfort.


Miyako tapped her foot impatiently against the smooth tiles of the computer lab. She checked her watch for the third time, and was dismayed to find that the minute hand had only moved one notch. Time seemed to be moving slower today.

She knew why, of course; it was the same reason that she’d spent the night tossing and turning instead of sleeping, and the same reason she’d barely paid attention to any of her classes (she’d listened enough to know that there would be an English test on Friday and that she wouldn’t be scoring highly on it). Her mind was full of Hawkmon and Holsmon and the feeling of soaring through digital skies with the wind in her hair. It had been terrifying and exhilarating all at once, and the moment it was over she found she couldn’t wait to do it again.

The door slid open and in slipped Taichi, Sora and Koushiro. For a moment, their appearance gave Miyako pause, and she wondered if ten-year-old Miyako would ever believe that the cool upperclassmen would be voluntarily hanging out with her in just a few short years. While she didn’t particularly count herself as much of a social butterfly, she couldn’t ignore the social standings of Yagami Taichi and Takenouchi Sora – the king and queen of the soccer field (even if the latter had more recently moved her talents to tennis). Koushiro was cool in his own way; this was a fact Miyako had decided long ago when the young man had arrived one day to help out at the junior school computer club. Miyako had never met anyone who could speak fluent binary.

Daisuke’s abrupt entrance brought a sudden end to her musings and she tried not to pout. He had a reputation all his own, and not one that Miyako wanted to be associated with. Still, it seemed that they were stuck on this adventure together (she wondered what sins she had committed in a past life to find her destiny so closely tied to his). She watched as he grinned and readjusted his goggles, practically mooning over Taichi, but the soccer star was too distracted in a quiet conversation with Sora and Koushiro to notice the boy-who-would-be-his-clone, and Miyako found it oddly satisfying to watch Daisuke’s shoulders slump.

Cruel? Yes. But he brought it on himself. Still… Miyako had gone through her own phase of mooning after upperclassmen (there were several girls in her older sister Momoe’s class who had exuded an air of ‘cool’ that Miyako had strived towards for years), and there was only so long she could watch Daisuke pining before she was painfully reminded of her own unrequited friendships.

Miyako sighed and turned back to the computer screen. In her boredom she had started streaming the news channel (the only channel allowed on the school’s network); the light-hearted chatter of the early afternoon presenters had been better than the silence of an empty classroom. What had been a rather interesting article about the recent computer programming competition (which had this year been held in Tamachi) had now become an expose on the winner. Ken Ichijouji was a boy-genius – the best thing since sliced bread, apparently. Miyako stared at his handsome face with a dreamy smile before the screen switched to an interview with his parents, and Miyako’s smile slowly became a grin. A boy-genius he might be, but Miyako was willing to bet he didn’t have a secret life in the Digital World like she did.

He was cute though.

“Can we get going?” Taichi finally asked. Miyako glanced at the clock again.

“Not yet,” she answered. “Not until – oh! Iori!” The youngest of their group had slipped silently into the room, and he dropped in to a stiff, formal bow.

“Please excuse my lateness,” he said softly. Miyako opened her mouth to reprimand his formality when Taichi pushed himself away from the wall as though it had burned him.

“Well let’s get this gate open then,” he ordered. Miyako swivelled quickly in her seat and held her red digivice up to the screen in a fluster. As the gate opened, she was vaguely aware of Sora whispering at Taichi and frowning.

They landed in the middle of a vast desert, and Miyako heard Daisuke groan over her shoulder.

“This wasn’t where Hikari was either,” he mumbled under his breath. Miyako ground her teeth together. She’d yet to meet the girl, but she felt as though she knew every tiny, little, insignificant detail about her, from the way she walked to the way her eyes sparkled in the firelight to the way she brushed her hair from her eyes and the way she smelled and laughed and how soft her hands were. In the week since she’d first travelled to the Digital World, every third word out of Daisuke’s mouth had been about Hikari – if it wasn’t some point of his own fascination, then it was something that he expected to win him favour with Taichi, gushing about how brave and fearless she’d been in the face of danger. Miyako’s only satisfaction was that Daisuke’s ploys rarely worked, and often ended with Taichi appearing more upset and agitated than before.

They ploughed on through the dry heat, scanning the surroundings for any sign of life and, more importantly, their digimon. After almost quarter an hour of walking Miyako was beginning to grow restless. She wasn’t sure how this whole thing was supposed to work, but from what she’d seen of their last adventure she’d assumed the digimon would be ready to greet them when they appeared. In hindsight, it was possibly not the most logical conclusion to jump to; the Digital World seemed extensive, and seeing as they seemed to appear in a new place every time it was unlikely that the digimon would always be ready to greet them. Unless their digivices automatically tuned in to the gate nearest their partners, but even then there was no way to truly tell how far apart the gates were from each other...

She pinched the bridge of her nose. The heat was making her head hurt, and the warm sand underfoot was beginning to roast the soles of her feet. She tried to think of anything she wouldn’t give to have Halsemon fly her to a cool lake where she could kick off her shoes and relax.

“Daisuke!”

Miyako’s head snapped up at the cry and she saw Veemon barrelling towards them at an incredible speed. Daisuke grinned, but when Veemon didn’t return the gesture his face quickly turned to worry.

“Veemon, what’s up?” he asked. Veemon’s large eyes were filled with worry and he bounced anxiously on his heels, looking over Taichi, Sora and Koushiro.

“You have to come quick!” he babbled. “We found a digimon and he needs our help!” Without waiting another moment, he tugged on Daisuke’s cuff and pulled the boy along the hardened sand. The others surged forwards, following the dip of the landscape and struggling up the next sandy ridge. As they mounted the peak, the sand suddenly became a lush forest; the hard ground immediately gave way to cool tufts of thick green grass, and the canopy of leaves provided well-needed relief from the burning sun. Under the cover of the trees they slowed a little and Miyako sagged forwards, gulping in the suddenly-cool air. As the others continued to follow Veemon, Miyako groaned and stumbled after them.

“Miyako!” Her head snapped upright and she stared at Hawkmon as he swooped from the sky. “I’m so pleased to see you, but we do find ourselves in quite the situation. Ah, Taichi; he’s been asking for you.” Miyako looked at Taichi who had tilted his head in confusion. He opened his mouth to ask, but Hawkmon motioned with a wing and took off through the trees.

Miyako followed closely behind, not willing to let Hawkmon out of her sight. She was so focused on her partner that she didn’t notice them reaching their destination until she almost tripped over a stationary Armadimon. With a surprised yell she tilted sideways, unprepared for the sudden stop, but something wrapped around her wrists and waist and set her back to rights again.

As the vines retracted, Miyako followed them to the source. The digimon was almost lost amongst the foliage, and it was the vibrant pink-and-yellow flower on its head that drew Miyako’s attention. A tall, yellow style sprouted from the centre of the petals with a drooping, swirling, orange-tinted stigma at the top. From underneath the petals two large, green eyes blinked out from the digimon’s dappled green face, and its large mouth was upturned in a gentle smile. Its arms were covered in leafy veins, and the creatures fingers were the purple-tipped ends of the vines that had kept Miyako from falling. Its feet were thick and faded to a deep brown, spreading over the earth like the roots of a tree.

“Careful,” the digimon said in a soft, tender voice. As the others arrived, the digimon smiled widely at their arrival. “Sora!” she called first, stretching her leafy hands wide and rushing to embrace the girl in a tight hug.

“Palmon! It’s good to see you!” Sora returned. Palmon quickly turned to greet the others, too. The commotion attracted the attention of Jou who had been hunched over a small figure, and with an exhausted smile he turned to greet them.

“Hi guys,” he said softly. As he walked closer, Miyako looked at the nervous patient. Most of his body was yellow and reptilian, with worn scales and dull claws for toes. His stomach was covered in a jagged red-and-blue pattern that was mostly hidden by the bandaged, scaly arm that peered out from beneath the striped pale-and-dark-blue fur pelt. Several gleaming teeth hung from the creature’s oversized upper jaw, and a gleaming golden spike emerged from the digimon’s forehead, sprouting from in between his large amber eyes. The two ears of the pelt trailed down his back, falling either side of his spiked tail. Sora’s soft gasp drew Miyako’s attention while Koushiro muttered something under his breath, and she watched as Taichi’s shoulders tensed as he took in the strange digimon.

“Gabumon,” he breathed quietly. The digimon looked up with tired eyes and grimaced, although Miyako imagined it was supposed to be a smile.

“Hello, Taichi.”

Chapter Text


CLOSE ENCOUNTERS


The ocean was calm; a smooth sheet of silver that stretched out to the horizon broken only by small waves that lapped gently at the sand, whispering untold secrets of the mysterious fathoms below. The grey sky brought a sense of unease that was familiar and paradoxically soothing, and he gulped in a deep breath as his boots crunched against the sand, each step leaving a deep scar in its wake. He hated it here, and yet there was a part of him that couldn’t help but feel like this was where he belonged.

It was quiet here, away from the insects of the Digital World. Ruling was becoming more tiresome of late and the distractions that tore his attention from larger pursuits were a persistent source of annoyance that continued to try his patience. For months he had battled on and off with the humans he’d found, but now more players had joined the game. He enjoyed the challenge, but there was a part of him that almost yearned for the days when things were simpler. Easier.

Back when I didn’t have to hurt so many of them.

Ken growled over the voice that bubbled at the back of his mind. There was his weakness, he fumed; a small part of his soul that couldn’t ignore the pain that came with power. Everything would be simpler when the Digital World was under his rule. Everything would be calmer, quieter, and his.

He stopped abruptly at the sound of sniffling, and his dark eyes narrowed at the small, trembling figure a few short steps away. She had tucked herself into the bluff and wrapped her arms tightly around her knees as she shivered against the stench of depression in the air. He wanted to sneer at her and remind her of just how feeble she was, of how she deserved to be here, but that sliver of weakness cinched its way around his throat. He tried to turn and walk away, leaving her and her insignificant problems behind, but his feet acted of their own accord. Instead he stepped closer, just like he did every time, and whilst he would never describe his voice as warm his words lacked their usual coolness.

“You’re here again.” She didn’t look at him, but the snivelling stopped. She raised a tiny hand to brush back the curtain of brown hair and she lifted her red-rimmed eyes towards him.

“So are you,” she answered quietly. She brought her hands to her chest and blew on them gently for warmth. Unlike Ken, who was covered almost entirely from head to toe, the girl’s thin, sleeveless tunic was hardly the best attire for the Dark Ocean. Slowly stood, brushing the grey sand from her legs and wrapping her arms around her stomach.

“But I like it here,” he replied. The girl’s red eyes stared right through him; two spots of crimson in a colourless world.

“Nobody likes it here.” Ken sneered. The girl was nothing more than a stumbling block in his path – vermin to be crushed under his reign – and yet he was standing with her as though she was an equal. He growled with anger, and the girl stepped closer. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing that an imbecile like you would understand,” he snapped. She was unaffected, as usual. They’d spent enough time together on this lonely shore that his temper didn’t bother her anymore. He had often wondered when he would become just as indifferent to her pitiful emotions as she was to his anger. He stared at her again; she had turned her eyes to the sheet of steely water that spread out to the horizon.

The girl confused and frustrated him. There were other humans on the server; this he knew. The would-be healer with his collection of walking wounded, and the other boy whose partner had somehow managed to circumvent the influence of the Dark Towers, to mention nothing of the newcomers who had started to crawl out of the woodwork. But of the pests and their partners, he had only ever seen the girl set foot upon the sands of this beach that felt like limbo. He found the colourless shore soothing and calm, but for some reason it terrified her. Even as she stood tall, staring out over the silvery abyss, he saw her shoulders tremble and noticed how the knuckles of her clenched fists were white with fear.

“I know why I’m here,” she said after a moment’s pause, not taking her eyes off the water. “Why do you keep coming back?”

“What business is it of yours?” he snarled. She looked at him with a sad smile.

“Because nobody chooses to be here; not really.”

She reached for him again, offering a small, gentle hand, but he growled and jumped away from her touch. In an instant his hand flew to his whip, and before he truly knew what he was doing he had brought the fine leather whistling through the air towards her, swinging blindly. She barely jumped out of the way in time, but the whip kissed the side of her face and left a sliver of blood along her cheekbone. A second snap, and the whip wrapped tightly around her wrist. Her eyes widened in surprise, and Ken chuckled as he tugged sharply, bringing her stumbling towards him. She might have kissed the dirt at his feet if he hadn’t reached out, catching her by the neck and wrapping his fingers tightly around her throat.

“You don’t know me,” he hissed, his face inches from hers. The terror that had flared in her eyes had faded, and the rubies were as calm as the ocean as they stared back at him. With another feral growl he tightened his grip, and he didn’t stop the smirk that spread over his lips as she finally gasped with fear. Her free hand moved to scratch at his wrist, trying to pull away, but the more she struggled the tighter his grip became.

“Without your digimon, you are nothing,” he hissed. He lifted her higher until her toes scraped the sand. He barely felt her short nails through his gloves as she continued to scratch and claw at him. Her eyes were growing wider by the minute, the calm thrown in to a sudden tempest, and he heard her wheezing and gasping as her struggles grew weaker. “You cannot hope to defeat me.” Her eyes began to roll as she looped her tired fingers around his wrist. Her lips opened and closed like a fish before finally gasping a single word.

“Please…”

For a moment, he considered what it would be like to squeeze the life from this girl. Or, better still, how she would react were he to place her under the control of a dark ring; he suddenly regretted that he was not able to better prepare for the unexpected trip. Despite his boasts, this wasn’t a place he came to willingly.

But the girl entertained him; or, rather, she had used to. There had been something almost quaint about the way she and her pathetic Tailmon continued to seek him out again and again despite their laughable odds, but recently their little game of cat and mouse had grown tiresome. The girl might be pretty good with a bow, but against an armoured digimon it was hardly an effective tactic, and her charming stubbornness was beginning to border on stupidity. With her new friends, perhaps she would finally be worth fighting, and in that moment he realised how much more enjoyable it would be to wipe her out in battle than to let her die with only his hand around her throat.

He threw her to the ground, and she fell as a dead weight in to the sand. The whip was still snared around her wrist, and he yanked it back, smiling as she yelped and rolled away from him. She curled up in to a tight ball, hugging her arm and rubbing at her neck, coughing and gasping. She was so small, he thought absently as she wheezed in to her knees. Small, weak and pathetic.

With a chuckle he turned on his heel and walked away, fingering the black digivice on his belt. As he walked, the girl’s coughing slowly subsided, and he paused as she fell silent. He wondered for a moment if he might have killed her yet, but he heard the sand shifting beneath her and he growled in both anger and satisfaction.

“This isn’t you,” she rasped slowly. “You’re better than you want everyone to believe. Otherwise, you would have killed me already.”

With a roar, he turned back to her, raising the whip once more. She’d barely lifted herself to her hands and knees when he towered over her, bringing the whip whistling through the air. She yelled in surprise, barely bringing her arm up in time to shield herself. The whip split the skin along her silvery forearm and she doubled over the wound, gasping in pain. Another strike landed on her back before he threw the whip aside and dropped to a crouch next to her, gripping a fistful of her hair and tearing her head back so that he could look in to her terrified, crying eyes.

“Don’t tempt me,” he spat, “or next time I might just finish the job.” He threw her aside violently, and she curled in on herself again, cradling her self-inflicted wounds and sobbing. This time when he walked away, she gave him no reason to turn back.


“That’s Santa Geria,” Gabumon whispered as they paused on the end of the forest where grass gave way to sand at the base of a mountain. The small stone huts were built so close against the sloping cliff that they almost looked carved from the bluff, with a scattering of yellow-green trees and bushes dotted in between. Further from the ground the houses grew sparser and shifted from stark-white to sun-blushed ruins lined by snaking paths that twisted and spiralled together as they climbed towards the white-hot sky. Against the pale landscape, the tall, black needle was a sharp eyesore.

“What’s that?” Taichi whispered, pressing himself flat against the sandy grass. Gabumon crawled next to him and stared at the tall black obelisk that sprouted from the centre of the city.

“The Kaiser called it a Dark Tower,” he replied in an equally hushed tone. “He said that he would use it to control everyone in the area. Then he summoned the dark rings to control the Gazimon. I don’t know what happened next; Yamato made me leave to find help.” Taichi couldn’t stop the smile that pulled at his lips.

“Idiot,” he muttered under his breath. Gabumon nodded in fond agreement.

“So what do we do?” Daisuke asked.

“We need to find a way to bring down that tower,” said Koushiro. Taichi twisted to look over his shoulder.

“You think that’ll solve it?” Taichi asked. Koushiro shrugged.

“I have a theory,” he answered quietly, crawling closer. “At first I thought that maybe these rings worked like the black gears – that they would corrupt a digimon’s data and make them more susceptible to darkness – but from what Gabumon’s explained it sounds more like it’s a form of mind control, and these Dark Rings are how he conveys his orders. Gabumon said the tower went up first and the rings came after, so now I’m wondering if the rings have a limited range.”

“What do you mean?” Sora asked. Koushiro pursed his lips and frowned at the tower for several seconds before finally coming up with an answer (or, more likely, coming up with a way of explaining his answer that they had a chance of understanding).

“It’s little more than a theory at this stage, I’d need more data to substantiate it, but what if that tower is part of a network to extend the Kaiser’s reach? Like how your cell phone bounces off a cell tower in a cellular network.”

“So if those things are like cell towers,” Taichi began, “does that mean that if we take them out…”

“That’s right,” Koushiro said with a nod. “If they work like I think they do, then taking them out could disrupt the Kaiser’s network. It should weaken his control over the dark rings in this area.”

“But how are we going to do that?” Miyako asked loudly. Taichi winced at her shrill voice. They might be a fair distance from the village, but judging by the size of the Gazimons’ ears he wouldn’t be surprised if they’d heard her clear as a bell. She was quickly shushed by several of the others and Taichi saw her cheeks flush as she continued in a hushed voice. “I mean we don’t even know how strong it is. What if we need explosions or something to bring it down?”

“Fladramon can take care of that,” Daisuke boasted. “He’s a walking fireball.” Veemon grinned and puffed out his chest, and Miyako rolled her eyes.

“Just because something’s on fire doesn’t mean it’s going to explode,” she snipped.

“I could try and dig down underneath it,” Armadimon suggested. “Perhaps if we try and uproot it-”

“But we don’t know how far down it goes,” Iori said with a stern frown. “What if they go all the way down in to the Digital World and connect to each other like a physical network? Or what if we get closer to it and find out that you guys can’t even armour digivolve?” Armadimon frowned.

“We need to collect more data,” Koushiro said with a frown. He glanced to Taichi and Taichi arched an eyebrow.

“You want to get closer.” It wasn’t a question. Koushiro nodded.

“If I can get close enough, I might be able to gather enough data on my digivice to analyse later.”

“But what if it’s too closely guarded for us to get close?” Miyako asked. Sora nodded in agreement.

“There’s no use getting the data if we can’t get back out again,” Sora countered from Koushiro’s other side. “If Gabumon’s right, then all the digimon in the city could be under the Kaiser’s control, and if the tower affects the Digimentals too then we might as well hand ourselves over to the Kaiser.” Daisuke scoffed.

“He’s just a kid-”

“A kid with a city of minions on his side,” Taichi argued. He curled his fingers in to fists. “And he has Yamato.”

“Shouldn’t we be tryin’ to save him?” Veemon asked, blinking his large eyes up at Daisuke.

“I… I’m not sure, buddy,” he answered quietly.

“We are going to save him,” Taichi said firmly, “but Sora’s right – getting in isn’t going to be the problem.” To Taichi’s left, Jou cleared his throat nervously.

“Um, guys...” It was phrased almost like a question, and Taichi turned to where Jou was sitting with Palmon. “I have an idea…”

The plan was explained and, with no better proposed alternatives, eventually agreed. Jou got the rope and Gabumon found a thick piece of bark that was sturdy enough to be wrapped around his waist. Against his scales the wood looked almost black, and he twisted the makeshift ring until the rough fastening was hidden under his pelt. Taichi offered his wrists first, followed by Palmon who would pretend to be his partner (she wasn’t particularly strong, but neither was she weak, and when she had volunteered for the task Sora had agreed that it was better than Taichi being completely unprotected). Sora and Piyomon came next, followed by Daisuke and Veemon and then Iori and Armadimon.

“Miyako and Hawkmon should stay behind,” Jou suggested. “If you get in to trouble, Holsmon’s the fastest way to get you out of there. And I don’t have a partner, so I’ll stay here.” Taichi didn’t miss the way his voice hitched a little, and had his hands not been tied up he would have reached out to Jou’s shoulder. Instead he caught Jou’s eye and nodded with what he hoped was a reassuring smile as Gabumon took the rope in his paws and led them towards the city.

“I wish Tailmon were here,” Taichi heard him mumble. “She’d be better at this sort of thing.”

Me too, Taichi thought, though he kept his mouth shut as they passed in to the shadow of the city. Gabumon began to snarl and tug the rope as they passed several digimon on the lower levels, and after one particularly sharp tug Taichi slumped heavily, dragging his heels in the dirt and earning a genuine glare from Gabumon. The resemblance to his partner was painful.

“Who goes there?” a voice cried, and their small procession halted. Gabumon stiffened and turn to glare at the approaching pair of RedVegiemon sentries. They looked like oversized-beetroots with spiked green clubs at the end of their wiry red arms. They waddled closer, sniggering to each other as they beheld Gabumon’s captives, stopping a little too close for comfort. They planted their clubbed hands in to the dirt and lifted themselves up until they towered over the group, and their glowing red eyes narrowed suspiciously. Taichi caught the glint of the dark rings bound tightly around their pockmarked skin.

“Hey! Don’t I know you?” one said, leering at Gabumon. He turned to his partner. “Do you know him?”

“Isn’t he the one who ran away when the Kaiser took over?” the other asked, leaning closer. Gabumon’s face remained impassive.

“Yeah!” the first exclaimed. “Didn’t get too far, did ya?” The RedVegiemon chuckled deeply to each other, and Gabumon snapped his jaws fiercely.

“I was sent on a mission by the Kaiser,” Gabumon retorted, his tone clipped and matching the RedVegiemon in their arrogance. The RedVegiemon shrank back, their eyes almost comically wide. “While you’ve been stuck here enslaving digimon, I’ve captured Chosen Children and their partners.” He tugged the rope and Taichi stumbled forward, growling. For a moment Gabumon’s glare faltered, but when Taichi tugged back with a discrete nod of his head Gabumon glowered again and turned back to the RedVegiemon. “Now if you’ll excuse me, the Kaiser wants them tied up at the bottom of the Dark Tower until he can come to collect them.” The digimon blinked in surprise, and for a moment Taichi wondered if they had bought Gabumon’s story. After a silent beat they erupted in enthusiastic offers of help and support. With a cold glare that reminded Taichi so much of Yamato, Gabumon silenced them and stepped forwards, leading them to one of the snaking paths that led from the pristine city to the dusty ruins and beyond.

By the time they reached the top, Taichi felt his calves burning, and he raised his bound hands to mop the sweat from his brow on the sleeve of his blazer, regretting not leaving the jacket with Jou and the others in the shade. Gabumon’s growl was the first sign that they weren’t alone, and Taichi stared through his drooping hair at the Vegiemon patrolling the base in small groups. They were smaller than the RedVegiemon who patrolled the upper levels with a watchful eye on the city below. They were almost at the base of the tower when someone shouted them to halt.

“The Kaiser wants these Chosen Children kept here,” Gabumon said firmly before anyone could interject. A RedVegiemon sloped forwards, fixing Gabumon with a strange look. Finally he cast his eyes further down the line, taking in the small group who by now were slouched and weary. From the corner of his eye, Taichi saw Daisuke straighten, fixing their inspector with a fierce glare.

“Odd that he didn’t want them kept in the cells with the other one,” he said slowly. Gabumon’s eyes widened a fraction and the RedVegiemon shuffled closer with a smirk. “You didn’t know he wasn’t here? How strange that the Kaiser didn’t give you all the information you needed to carry out your mission. Perhaps there is something wrong with your ring…” He waddled closer to Gabumon, reaching towards the band of bark around Gabumon’s waist, and Taichi cursed. He glanced to Daisuke who looked to Veemon who nodded with an eager grin.

“Split up!” Taichi shouted, though it was almost lost under RedVegiemon’s yell of, “Get them!” Diving to the side, Taichi dropped the rope from around his hands and ducked under a flurry of green-purple vines as Palmon ensnared the closest RedVegiemon and held him in place. The air was filled with the yellow vines of Vegiemon as they surged forwards, lumbering towards the digidestined faster than Taichi would have thought possible.

“Digimental up!” Daisuke and Iori cried out in unison. Taichi threw himself under a pair of outstretched vines to dive towards the base of the tower. Koushiro had pressed himself against it, holding his digivice against the surface with a frown while Tentomon darted this way and that to intercept the incoming attacks.

“Anything?” Taichi asked.

“I can’t analyse the data, I can only collect it,” Koushiro answered.

“Well can you collect it faster?”

“I’m trying my best but I – hey!” Taichi had gripped his shoulder to pull him roughly to the ground, narrowly avoiding a fiery blast that splashed harmlessly against the tower. Koushiro tore his arm free with a glare. “Now I have to start over!”

“You’re welcome,” Taichi growled, hauling himself to his feet. “Tentomon, make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.”

“I’ll try my best,” came the clipped response. Fladramon had joined the fray now and the RedVegiemon had turned their attention towards him, peppering him with blasts of fire that splashed against his armour. On the other side of the tower, Digmon was firing gleaming silver drills to try and keep the swarm at bay, though several Vegimon had wrapped their vines around his arms and were trying to pull him to his knees.  

“Taichi!” Sora’s voice cut across the battle like a knife, and he span in time to watch her become ensnared in the vines of three Vegiemon, though her wide eyes were fixed on him. “Behind you!”

The burns splashed across his back and knocked the breath from his lungs as he staggered forwards. A second round of RedVegiemon’s Chilli Pepper Pummel sent him to his knees and filled the air with the stench of singed cotton and hair. Thick yellow vines tightened around his arms and chest as he was pulled upright, blinking the blinding light from his eyes to find the others in a similar state – bound by vines and lifted several feet off the ground. The ground shuddered as Digmon was finally brought down, and Daisuke cried out as several Vegiemon latched on to Fladramon who let out a furious roar. A ball of fire began to form at his knuckles, but the Vegiemon wrapped their vines around his arm and aimed his fist towards Daisuke, and it was quickly extinguished.

“You cannot hope to defeat the Kaiser,” RedVegiemon proclaimed. He waddled closer to Taichi with a sinister chuckle. “He will rule the Digital World, and you will bow before him. He will crush you and you will kiss his boots while he-” Whatever the Kaiser was going to do to them was lost in a sudden gust of wind as Holsmon’s Tempest Wing blasted the digimon back in to the tower. It landed with a resounding CRACK, sending a spiderweb of fractures shivering up the dark column.

The Vegiemon turned their attention towards Holsemon with single-minded fury. The RedVegiemon were roaring orders to attack amidst bursts of fire, and Taichi yelped as he was thrown down to the ground. Holsmon reared up in to the sky and quickly twisted, facing the oncoming attacks with a grin.

“Mach impulse!” From beneath the wings of his silver helmet, two large gusts of wind sliced through the air and pushed the Vegiemon back, sending them tumbling over each other in a disgruntled wave. Holsemon rose in to the air, twisting away from the wave of attacks that fell short of their target, and Taichi almost laughed at the sight of Jou clinging desperately to Miyako with a hand clamped over his mouth.

Taichi rolled to his feet and rushed to Sora who was struggling with the last of Vegiemon’s thin vines. With a fierce peck from Piyomon’s sharp beak the digimon yelped and let go, clutching its injured limb as it hobbled directly in to Fladramon’s flaming fist.

“You all right?” Taichi asked, offering her his hand. She didn’t need it, but she took it anyway, and as she laced her fingers with his he felt her offer a firm squeeze.

“Fine,” she answered. She glanced over Taichi’s shoulder. “The tower’s damaged. It’s getting worse.” Taichi turned, eyeing the spiderweb of cracks that had spread up from the RedVegiemon’s impact. Digmon lumbered past the tower, and each heavy footfall made the cracks grow by an inch or two, coughing out clouds of dark dust. Something heavy collided with the other side, and the cracks grew again. Taichi quickly scanned the fight.

“Daisuke!”

“Yeah?” He was several feet away, dodging several attacks at once. Fladramon landed heavily beside him, sending out a spiralling circle of fire that left the Vegiemon dancing back, and Daisuke looked up. Taichi jerked a thumb towards the tower and Daisuke nodded. “Fladramon!”

“My pleasure!” He quickly turned his attention towards the tower, fighting his way towards it with Daisuke in his wake. Sora tugged Taichi’s hand, pulling him out of the way of another barrage of flaming peppers which exploded at their feet. Taichi kicked flaming vegetable gunk off his sneakers before glancing to the sky. Holsmon was circling the tower, throwing an attack here and there to help with crowd control. Across the small plaza, Koushiro and Tentomon were keeping Iori safe while Digmon was shooting drills at the nearest attackers.

“Come on,” he said, tugging Sora’s hand. Together they waved through the crowd, darting this way and that to avoid the digimon and their attacks. Piyomon followed, watching their backs and retaliating when she could, though her magical fire was barely more than an inconvenience at best.

They reached Koushiro and the others just in time to see Fladramon launch his first attack on the tower. The cracks worsened, spreading further across the base, but otherwise the tower remained intact. Taichi cursed.

“I could try to drill it down,” Digmon said between fending off the RedVegiemon who had organised themselves in to a line and were quickly advancing, trapping them in a corner. “I just need to get to it.”

“If Fladramon could cause a distraction then he might give you an opportunity,” said Iori.

“We don’t know for certain that destroying the tower will do anything,” Koushiro interjected. “It’s just a theory-”

“You’ve never steered us wrong before,” Sora countered. “Piyomon, can you get a message to Miyako and Holsmon?”

“Leave it to me!” she chirped. She took Sora’s message and took to the skies, and Taichi watched as Holsmon paused to listen before diving towards Fladramon.

The RedVegiemon were upon them now, and Taichi tugged Sora aside as they launched their first assault. Koushiro took to protecting Iori whilst Tentomon did his best to destroy the attacks as they advanced, managing to explode several chillis in the air. Digmon was hunkered over Iori and Koushiro, his impenetrable golden shell protecting them from the rain of fire. A pause in the onslaught allowed him to twist, and he plunged his drills in to the dirt.

“Big crack!” A fissure split the plaza, and the Vegiemon and RedVegiemon dove out of its path in an angry fluster.

“Get to the tower!” Iori cried. Digmon nodded and sprang forwards, running astride the fissure. It took a moment for the digimon to realise what he was doing, but by the time they had regained their wits Fladramon had dropped down amongst them with Holsmon hovering over his shoulder, allowing Digmon to reach the tower unhindered. He drove his drills in to the spider web of fractures.

“Titan drill!”

Cracks raced the length of the tower, belching dirt and fragments of stone before they reached the peak. The tower gave a great shudder before tilting to the side, crumbling as it fell and crashing to the ground in pieces.

The attacking digimon stopped in their tracks. A heavy silence fell over the plaza and Taichi pulled Sora behind him as he watched the digimon warily. After a moment they began to move again; slowly at first, as though waking up from some kind of dream. They blinked the red glow from their eyes and wriggling their way out of the Dark Rings in a confused stupor as the city below erupted in victorious cheers. Taichi’s digivice chirped and he ripped it from his belt, studying the display carefully, but it seemed that it was just informing him that whatever effect the tower had held over the area had been lifted.

“Taichi,” said Sora, grabbing his wrist. “Yamato – we have to find him.” Taichi grit his teeth and nodded, clipping his digivice back on to his trousers before turning to the first digimon he could find.

“Someone mentioned cells – prison cells – where are they?” The Vegiemon scratched its head for a moment, blinking her clear eyes at them in confusion before she was finally able to answer.

“Back towards the city,” she said. “When you reach the fork in the ruins, turn left and head to the old temple. The cells are underneath.”

“Then let’s go!” Daisuke proclaimed. “Fladramon will have your friend busted out of there in no time-”

“I wouldn’t bother if I were you.”

A shadow swooped overhead and Taichi stiffened, looking up to the sky. A giant dragon digimon loomed overhead, its tattered crimson wings spread wide. It was lowering itself towards them, and Taichi caught the thick black ring that was strapped around its neck, peering out from behind tattered crimson and yellow feathers. A battered ivory skull sat atop its snout, and a figure stood between the jagged horns; Daisuke’s enthusiastic descriptions of the boy-tyrant had barely done his flamboyant outfit justice. The Kaiser smirked down at them, his fingers tightening around the hilt of his whip.

“Looking for this?”

The digimon twisted, its tightly-coiled tail slowly unravelling. Taichi’s heart leapt to his throat.

“Yamato!” he roared, rushing forwards. Yamato’s body hung limp, and as the digimon dangled him perilously in the air Taichi caught sight of crimson matted in to his blond hair. Taichi’s heart stopped. “Let him go!” The Kaiser merely laughed and cracked his whip. The digimon rose high in to the sky, taking Yamato with him, and Taichi’s heart skipped several beats.

“Sora!” Piyomon cried. Taichi turned, only to be blinded by the light of evolution as Sora’s digivice erupted. Birdramon was still glowing when she surged forwards, calling Taichi’s name, and Taichi wrapped himself around her leg as she took to the air. She soared with such speed that Taichi couldn’t breathe, and he pressed his face into her scales until she finally broke through the clouds and hung on a warm updraft. The sun was blinding, and it took too long for Taichi to blink the sunlight from his eyes in order to search the skies, only to find them empty.

The Kaiser and Yamato were gone.


Tailmon paced nervously, wringing her paws together. She’d been woken in the middle of the night by Hikari’s nightmare, and after soothing the girl back to sleep she’d hoped that would be the last of it. When she awoke to the glorious sunshine that filtered through the gaps in the thatched wall, she was at first grateful for the undisturbed cat nap until she realised that while Hikari’s bow, quiver and shoes were neatly laid out next to her small pile of blankets, Hikari was nowhere to be seen. She’d spent the day worriedly pacing their makeshift hut in a terrified panic. With Hikari missing again, Tailmon felt like her heart might just explode.

When a shadow passed outside their makeshift hut Tailmon jumped in surprise, dropping in to a deep crouch. Her heart froze as the figure walked to the small entrance, and when the reeds were pushed aside Tailmon barely stopped herself from springing forwards with a cry.

“Hikari!” she gasped, dropping her paw. “I was so worried! Where have you-” As Hikari stepped inside, Tailmon felt the question die in her throat. The tremble in her arms, the haunted look in her eyes, and the rotting stench that followed her like a fog were enough to tell Tailmon exactly where she’d been.

She took Hikari’s hand and led her to the blankets, wrapping the thickest one loosely around her shoulders before preparing a fire in the centre of their small shelter. She heard Hikari’s teeth chatter as she stacked the twigs and kindling, and she heard the occasional whimper as she reached for the flint to start the fire. By the time the fire was truly burning, Hikari had fallen so silent that Tailmon thought she might have been asleep. As she packed the flint away and beheld her human partner, she was dismayed to see Hikari’s empty eyes fixed absently on the fire, watching without seeing as the flames danced and writhed and the wood popped and crackled.

Tailmon sat on the other side of the fire and waited silently. If there was one thing she had learned from their years together, it was that Hikari recovered best in silence; taking a moment to pull the pieces of herself back together one by one. Tailmon hated it. Hikari was so removed from her normal, vibrant self that Tailmon couldn’t help but think that each time she rebuilt her walls she hid something new behind them. And of course, being just as stubborn as her brother, Hikari refused to talk about it.

That didn’t stop Tailmon from trying.

“You were there again, weren’t you?” Tailmon asked when Hikari’s gaze was no longer glassy and unfocused. Hikari tried to smile, but Tailmon’s stern glare made it flicker back out like a candle in a storm.

“It’s not like I plan it,” she said softly and Tailmon winced; her eyes might be back to normal, but her voice was still quiet and hollow.

“Hikari-”

“I’m okay, Tailmon,” she interrupted, and this time her smile stayed a little longer. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Of course it doesn’t matter; you’re not dead,” Tailmon muttered before she could stop herself. Hikari’s shoulders tensed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know exactly what it’s supposed to mean.” Hikari bit her lip and stared down at her lap like a scolded kitten but Tailmon did not offer an apology. Hikari’s selflessness was a topic that had come up in many a heated discussion and often resulted in them dancing in circles around each other. Hikari’s unwillingness to put herself first had almost gotten them killed on numerous occasions, like the time when she’d given the last of their rations to a village of baby Zurumon on the eve of a storm that had trapped them in a cave for three days, or when they’d first run in to the Kaiser and Hikari’s decision to defend an injured Punimon had left her with a long scar across her back and three jagged scratches on her arm that had healed in to pale, knotted lines across her tanned skin.

Hikari shifted uncomfortably and the blanket slipped from around her shoulders a little. At first Tailmon thought the shadows were caused by the fire playing across her skin, but when some of the purple marks didn’t join the dance Tailmon sped forwards, ripping the blanket from Hikari’s grip before she could protest.

Her right cheekbone was swollen and split with a scar no bigger than Tailmon’s claw which had left a small trickle of blood down the flushed cheek. Under the sudden inspection, Hikari tucked her arms close to her stomach but not before Tailmon noticed the raw, red wrist or the smear of blood that her other arm left behind. Tailmon reached out and snatched her uninjured wrist, examining the thin, clean scar that ran down the outside of her forearm. And when her eyes travelled back to Hikari’s face they stopped at the splotchy ring around her neck. Hikari raised her free hand to try and sweep her hair over the injury, but Tailmon had seen enough.

“Tailmon,” Hikari croaked, but Tailmon turned away and sprinted to Hikari’s satchel, withdrawing a bundle of rags and their half-full water canteen. Tailmon would need to refill that once she had gotten Hikari to sleep. She bounded around the fire and tugged one of the rags from the bundle to soak it with cold water.

“Tailmon, don’t worry, I can – tssss.” Hikari winced as the compress was applied with just a little too much pressure to the wound on her cheek. When tears threatened to fall, Tailmon almost felt guilty until she remembered just why she was angry in the first place. Part of her was tempted to leave it to Hikari to patch herself up, but she frowned at the thought. Here was the girl she had raised from kitten to… well, perhaps Hikari still had a little too much impulsiveness in her to be a fully-grown cat just yet.

After cleaning Hikari’s face Tailmon moved on to her arm, this time applying the compress with much less pressure. She softened the dried blood and removed it with several whispers of the cloth against Hikari’s inflamed skin, and when that too was clean Tailmon wrapped it tightly in the linen rags.

“Anything else I should know about?” she asked quietly. For a moment Hikari remained silent and still, as though ignoring the question would make the situation go away, but then after a moment she dropped the blanket and twisted so that her back was facing the fire. Stiffly she took the wrappings from her waist and lifted her tunic, leaving her torso bear except for the black wrapping around her chest that Hikari had taken to wearing for modesty as her figure had begun to change from that of a little girl. The faded scar that ran from her left shoulder blade to her hip winked in the firelight, and Tailmon winced at the smaller, fresher mark that ran alongside it. The attack had created a small graze on her bare skin, but the blow hadn’t been heavy enough to break any of the flesh beneath Hikari’s tunic, leaving behind a thick red welt that ran from hip to shoulder. Tailmon briefly wiped the graze and then set to packing everything away.

She didn’t need to ask where the injuries had come from. Whenever Hikari came back from the Dark Ocean she came back damaged, and if the Kaiser was there too it was always worse. The only positive, Tailmon reflected with a morbid sigh, was that at least the Kaiser left his scars on the outside.

“Are you going to tell me why you went there?” Tailmon prompted softly, bundling up the used rag. Hikari shrugged her tunic back on and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders again. For a moment Tailmon thought Hikari would ignore the question entirely, and was pleasantly surprised when her heavy sigh was interrupted by Hikari’s meek voice.

“I was thinking about home,” she almost whispered. Her eyes were still fixed on the fire as she chewed her lip. “About Taichi… and my parents… The others…” Tailmon sidled closer and placed a gentle paw on Hikari’s cold knee. The girl shivered.

“We’ll see Daisuke again,” she said. “He’s sure to have given Taichi your message by now. The others will be here before you know it.”

“And then what?” Hikari asked quietly.

“What do you mean?” Hikari stared at her lap, picking at the hem of her threadbare tunic.

“I don’t want to leave you.” Tailmon shivered. She’d been trying her best not to think about it, but if the gates were truly open again, where did that leave Hikari? She didn’t belong in the digital world, but Tailmon didn’t belong on Earth. It had been difficult, trying to keep Hikari alive in a world that would easily have destroyed her frail human form, but Tailmon knew she had it better than the others who’d had to bid farewell to their partners.

“Maybe you won’t have to. Maybe the gates are different now.” Hikari didn’t look up. Tailmon took Hikari’s trembling hand and tugged gently. “Come on, let’s get you to bed.” She carefully coaxed Hikari down on to the pile of blankets, tucking them tightly around Hikari’s tiny frame. Hikari clenched her eyes shut and rolled on to her other side, curling in to a tight ball and shivering fiercely. Tailmon settled by the fire, missing Agumon now more than ever. His fires always seemed somehow warmer, and his presence – and the reminder of Taichi – often helped soothe Hikari when Tailmon alone could not. It felt strange now that it was just the two of them again, and she didn’t doubt that Agumon’s absence had helped nudge Hikari back in to that strange dark world.

Tailmon shivered and turned her gaze back to Hikari, wishing she knew more about the dark world if only to keep Hikari from slipping back there so often. She never felt more powerless than when Hikari was snatched away from her. But there was so little she knew and much less that she could do, and so she resigned herself to watching Hikari’s shivering shoulders until the tremors finally faded and Hikari slipped into a restless sleep.

Chapter Text


HOPEFUL REUNIONS


Jou stood and stretched, working the kinks from his spine and mopping the sweat from his brow. He’d never done well in arid climates; the heat dried out his throat and made his hands sweat, and his burning tongue felt three sizes too large for his mouth. He forced a smile as the Gazimon thanked him and hobbled away, clutching his tightly bound wrist against his chest. Luckily there was little more than a few scrapes and bruises; injuries that he could easily treat with his small bag of supplies (though he did offer sanctuary to a RedVegiemon who had taken Fladramon’s burning fist to his face and was still suffering severe scorch marks that reeked of burned tomato).

Taichi was the worst hit out of all of them; the RedVegiemon’s fiery attacks had singed the back of his hair and his neck, leaving him with a patch of angry red skin along his collar. He’d taken off his jacket and tie and loosened his shirt, but had refused all other treatment, choosing instead to stand at the edge of the plaza and peer down towards the forest below. Jou moved to stand at his side, clearing his throat softly.

“Everything all right?” he asked, and quickly kicked himself. No, everything was not all right. If everything was all right, Taichi would have been handing out orders and rounding everyone up so they could move on to their next great adventure. Instead he was staring in to the distance with a mix of hope and despair playing across his face.

“I was hoping…” Taichi began, his voice so quiet that Jou had to strain to hear him. After a moment he continued, slightly louder than before. “With all the noise we made, anyone in a ten mile radius would have heard it. I thought I saw something moving in the trees and I thought-” Taichi stopped suddenly and swallowed, and the tight lump in his throat bobbed up and down nervously. His fingers curled in to trembling fists. Jou turned his gaze towards the trees below and for a minute he thought perhaps he saw something too – a slight twitch along the treeline. He pushed his glasses further up his nose and leant forwards, trying to figure out if the shadow at the edge of the forest was a friend, a foe, or (more likely) an errant tree branch dancing in the breeze.

Taichi took a deep steadying breath and turned back to the village, and Jou turned with him. For a moment they stood and watched the hustle and bustle fo the digimon as they set their town to rights again. Already the gazimon had handed out several lengths of rope, and together with the Vegiemon and RedVegiemon they were making quick work of breaking up the remains of the Tower and carrying them out of town.

“Any sign of her?” Taichi asked. Jou didn’t need him to clarify who he meant, and he shook his head slowly.

“Not yet,” he answered. “We were heading out to try and look for any sign of her when we found Gabumon.” Taichi swallowed again and nodded stiffly. A shadow swept across the plaza and they looked up, following Birdramon as she circled overhead. Koushiro had confirmed that the destruction of the Dark Tower had removed any restriction on their digimon’s evolution, and Birdramon was revelling in her freedom, swooping through the air and trilling jubilantly as she ducked between clouds. Sora too seemed overjoyed, and as Birdramon tucked herself in to a steep dive Jou saw Sora spreading her arms wide against the incoming gale.

“Are you coming home this time?” Taichi’s question made Jou’s heart hammer against his ribs, and he spluttered through several brief coughs before finally managing to compose himself. He nudged his glasses higher up his sweating nose.

“I can’t,” he said, hating the tremor in his voice. He cleared his throat again and mumbled about having too much to do – his field hospital was busier than ever, and he’d need to train apprentices and restock the supplies and look for strong guardians before he could even think about leaving – but there was something in Taichi’s expression which suggested he wasn’t really listening. As Jou trailed off in to silence Taichi fixed him with a strange look, but he said nothing further.

They made their way to Koushiro and Tentomon who were poking and prodding at the shards of the fallen tower. Koushiro straightened as they arrived, though he continued to frown down at his digivice.

“Looks like I can’t get anymore data now that it’s been destroyed,” he said, clipping the device back on to his belt. He lifted his head and glanced around. “This does confirm my theory, though; the towers must extend the Kaiser’s reach.”

“And inhibit our ability to digivolve,” Tentomon added. Koushiro nodded.

“We’ll need to keep an eye out for them wherever we go,” Koushiro said.

“The digimon here seem happier without it, too,” Palmon added. Jou glanced around too; there was a definite pep in almost everyone’s step, which made the stormcloud hanging over Gabumon that much more prominent. Taichi seemed to notice it too, and he crouched next to the digimon and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“We’ll find him, Gabumon,” he said firmly. “Him and Agumon.” Gabumon nodded a little.

Despite their victory they traipsed back down the mountain subdued. Jou trailed behind, wondering whether or not he should walk the others to the gate or leave them at the base of the mountain. The more he thought about it, the more he realised he wanted to stay with them. Human contact had been sorely missed over the past few years, and contact with the other Chosen was something he would treasure more than anything. But if he went with them to the gate, and if the gate pulled him through… He didn’t know if he was ready to face up to his father and his brothers just yet.

It was a quandary that Jou had been debating since seeing Koushiro and the others. Personally, he couldn’t be prouder of the work he had accomplished in the Digital World with his roaming hospitals, but he knew all too well that his father would have wanted him to have been making his way towards medical school by now. His work on digimon might be the first of its kind, but he could guarantee that if it had nothing to do with human medicine his father wouldn’t want to hear a word of it.

And as for his older brothers… he wondered what they would be doing now. They’d both been well on their way to becoming doctors, following in their father’s footsteps, but Jou hadn’t forgotten his conversation with his eldest brother Shin in the shadow of the Convention Centre. Shin had told him it shouldn’t matter what their father wanted, and that Jou should follow his own passions. While Shin had been a natural-born doctor, Shuu had had to work hard to earn their father’s attention; he’d been away at a summer intensive when Jou had left for summer camp. Between them, Shin and Shuu had set their father’s expectations staggeringly high, and not for the first time Jou was left wondering if perhaps it might be easier to just stay in the Digital World forever.

“Jou? Could we talk for a moment?” Koushiro’s quiet voice pulled him from his reverie and Jou noticed that they had fallen some way behind the others. Jou nodded, and when Koushiro slowed down a little Jou was quick to match his pace, increasing the distance between them and the others.

“You’re not coming back, are you?” Koushiro’s question was more of a statement, and Jou shook his head. Koushiro seemed almost relieved behind his disappointment.

“Why? What’s wrong?” he asked. Koushiro glanced ahead to Taichi before answering.

“Daisuke heard from the Kaiser that Hikari and Tailmon were heading north,” he explained. “He seemed to imply that… that she wasn’t likely to last long. It sounded as though she was up against some pretty dangerous odds, and if she survived then the Kaiser had some of his controlled digimon waiting for her.” Jou swallowed heavily.

“North,” he repeated solemnly. “We can search for her there. Is that why Taichi’s so…” He couldn’t put his finger on it. He certainly wasn’t himself; or, that was to say, he wasn’t the Taichi that Jou remembered. To his surprise, Koushiro shook his head.

“He doesn’t know,” Koushiro mumbled quietly. “It’s… Things aren’t as simple as they used to be.” There was more to the answer, that much was obvious, but something about the way Koushiro never took his eyes away from Taichi’s back kept Jou from asking. After a moment Koushiro cleared his throat and unclipped his digivice, studying the screen intently despite it only showing the standard map. “I’ve been trying to find something that might help. Miyako allowed me to examine her digivice – the new model – and they have a number of features that surpass our own. For example, they’re not only able to track each other and us, like ours can, but these new devices can identify each other.” Jou nodded, remembering the colourful dots that showed up on Iori’s digivice that helped them track down Daisuke.

“You think you can use that to track her down?”

“Her and Takeru, and maybe Yamato and the Kaiser too. His dark digivice can’t be too much different from the others-”

“Wait – the Kaiser has a digivice?” Jou hissed in surprise. “He’s a Chosen Child – like us?” Koushiro’s nod was slow and solemn.

“I’m afraid so,” he answered, “but I think something has gone wrong. All these new Digidestined seem to take after some of us. For example, the armour that Veemon uses to digivolve seems to be formed from the crest of Courage, while Miyako and Hawkmon have Love, and Iori and Armadillomon use the crest of Knowledge. And forgive my presumptions, but based on the positive theme amongst our crests, I can’t imagine there being a crest of Cruelty or Malice or Wrath.”

“So you think perhaps he has one of our crests too?” Jou asked, sceptical.

“It’s only a hypothesis at best, and I have very little to go on,” he said, “and I could be clutching at completely the wrong straws, but I think perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye.”

Their conversation fell short as they approached the small mound of earth that bore the dated television set. Here they paused, and Taichi again turned over his shoulder to scan their surroundings. They’d passed through the forest and emerged onto the dry, compacted ground, and Taichi was staring in to the distant trees. Sora placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and Taichi sagged heavily against her support.

“I guess we should head home then,” he said solemnly. His dark eyes fell upon Jou. “You sure you won’t come back with us?” Jou tried to smile as he shook his head.

“Maybe next time,” he answered. “I’ve got-”

“Too much to do, I got it.” For a moment Jou wondered if Taichi might try again to stay, but finally he gripped Jou’s forearm firmly. “Be careful.” Jou nodded.

Daisuke raised his digivice to the screen, and Jou found himself blinded by a bright flash of light. When it cleared, Taichi and the others were gone, as were Veemon, Hawkmon and Armadimon. Jou took a tentative step forwards, examining the world that appeared on the television screen. The others had landed in a tangle of limbs and feathers and claws, and Jou laughed as he watched them untangle themselves with a chorus of groans and yells. As Daisuke, Miyako and Iori each realised they hadn’t been separated from their partners, the signal fizzled and was slowly replaced by a burst of static before the television screen went completely blank.

In the silence that followed, Jou heard something rustling in the trees behind him. A deep growl confirmed that Birdramon had not de-digivolved in Sora’s absence, and the knowledge made him feel a little more confident as he turned back to the treeline. He straightened slowly and watched as a figure broke from the trees in a sprint. It was human-like in proportion, covered in foliage from head to toe with a long wooden staff strapped across its back, and Jou felt his palms break out in a film of sweat as it came closer, its long, loping strides bringing it too close too quickly, and Birdramon spread her wings with a warning cry. The figure skidded to a halt, and to Jou’s surprise it started to laugh – a giddy, elated sound.

“I thought – when I saw – I can’t believe it!” His familiar voice trembled, and he covered it with a laugh. “It’s you! It’s really you!” Jou blinked at the figure, watching as he lifted his hands to the vine-covered helmet. Golden hair spilled over his shoulders, and tear-filled blue eyes stared at him with such happiness and hope that Jou felt something warm settle in his chest.

“Takeru!”


Taichi sighed and sagged heavily against the kitchen counter, watching the rice spiral round and round the microwave. He needed to become a better chef, he mused. There was no point keeping his mother up to date on her medications if he couldn’t even feed her properly. He needed to take a cooking course. He needed to look up some recipes online.

I need to find Hikari.

From the moment Daisuke had told him that he’d seen her, Hikari had consumed his every thought. It was becoming more and more difficult to focus at school, and soccer had become an inconvenience and not just a distraction. Even his mother’s medications were administered absently, although he’d been doing it for so long it was hardly a task that required the utmost attention.

The shrill wail of the microwave drew him from his thoughts and he untangled his fingers from the delicate chain about his neck, tucking the crest back under his t-shirt. Yet again he’d messed up the timings, and as he tested a piece of chicken he found it chewy and dry despite the marinade. Not that his mother would notice. Whether he offered her burnt toast or caviar, she would ignore it all the same. He grumbled under his breath as he spread the rice across three bowls and poured the chicken and sauce on top, immediately wrapping one over and setting it back in the dark microwave to keep it safe from Miko. The cat had been sitting in front of the fridge for the last half hour, watching him hurry around the kitchen, swishing her tail and mewing excitedly whenever there was the slightest chance of food dropping on to the floor.

Three times they had tried to give the cat away to friends or neighbours, and three times she had reappeared in the apartment – curled up on Hikari’s pillow or, after they’d gotten rid of the bunk beds – on their bedroom windowsill. As his mother’s health began to decline, and as his father began spending more time in the office, it became easier for Taichi to simply admit defeat and add cat food to the weekly food shop.

“Mom, here,” he murmured as he pressed the bowl in to her hands. She continued to stare absently at the television, barely acknowledging the food or the utensils he wound between her fingers. Taichi stifled a sigh and returned to the kitchen, dropping heavily in to a seat at the table. He propped his cell phone against the empty vase that acted as a centrepiece and loaded up the highlights from the last match between FC Tokyo and Gamba Osaka. As he took his first mouthful of dinner, he was surprised to hear the front door open and close quietly. His father slipped off his shoes and slipped silently in to the kitchen, looking as though he might keel over at a moment’s notice.

“There’s a bowl in the microwave for you,” Taichi offered, swallowing heavily. “It should still be hot.” This was rewarded with an exhausted smile, and his father grabbed the bowl before joining Taichi at the table. Together they watched as keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi ruined yet another of FC Tokyo’s attempts to score. He passed the ball to Omori who sprinted down the centre of the field, meeting almost no opposition.

“This wasn’t a great game for Tokyo,” his father said quietly. Taichi blinked in surprise and almost choked on his mouthful of rice, having been so used to meals in silence. He chased the mouthful with a gulp of water and blinked back the surprised tears that had pooled in his eyes.

“Yeah, it wasn’t their best,” he wheezed, taking another sip. He coughed again to clear his throat. After a moment of silence, his father sighed and rested his hands on the table.

“Your mother’s not getting any better, is she?” Taichi took another slow mouthful of food before shaking his head. His father’s jaw clenched tightly and he stiffened in his seat. “I thought not.” Suddenly the soccer match seemed insignificant. Taichi turned it off and poked at his dinner, having lost his appetite. It seemed that his father’s hunger had also vanished, with the meal barely touched. His father sighed heavily and pushed the food away.

“Why don’t we get out of town?” his father suggested suddenly. “We could go visit your Aunt Kikuro. Your mother loves Odawara. We could take a day trip to Hakone, spend the afternoon in Gora Park. Your mother loves the rose garden…”

“I can’t,” Taichi said with a shake of his head. “I have to… I need to stay in town.” His father fixed him with his tired, dark eyes.

“But you haven’t got any games coming up, so I’m sure you could miss a soccer practice or two,” he said. Taichi stumbled for a moment.

“Sora and I are working on a project,” he stammered. “It’s for history. She’d kill me if I left her to handle it solo.”

“And your mother is less important than a report?” Taichi winced, but the statement was said more with curiosity than with anger. “Sora’s a smart girl, and she knows how hard you work for your mother. I’m sure she won’t begrudge you taking some time off this once. And if she can’t do it alone, then I’ll write a letter to the school. Unless, of course, there’s something else going on…” He fixed Taichi with such a knowing look that for a moment he wondered if his father knew about the Digital Gates opening up again and about Taichi’s secret trips to the Digital World. He almost gave in, and the story was on the tip of his tongue before he bit it back. There was no proof; no reason for his father to believe him. The crest of Light burned against his chest, but a trinket was not a person and his father would not understand its significance. And perhaps some time out of Odaiba would do his mother good. He tried to smile when he told his father there was nothing else, but when he cleared his full plate away moments later his father was still watching him closely.


Yamato groaned and rolled on to his side, rubbing at his pounding head. Everything ached, and his palms still stung from the grazes he had earned when the Kaiser had thrown him in to his new home. He took a deep breath through his nose and grimaced; he was already starting to attract quite a smell.

He could only hope that Gabumon had found help.

“Ah, you’re awake.” Yamato groaned and rolled his eyes; the Kaiser’s juvenile voice ground a little more of his nerves each time. He peered at the boy from the corner of his eye and forced a smirk.

“Ah, you’re back,” he said, mocking the Kaiser’s tone. To his disappointment, the boy didn’t rise to the jab. Yamato closed his eyes again, rolling onto his back and trying not to grimace at the shiver of pain that lanced up his spine.

“Are you enjoying your stay?” the boy sneered. Yamato tucked his hands behind his head in an attempt to appear casual. The cold stone bench froze his knuckles.

“Is there a reason you’re checking up on me?” Yamato asked. “I think we both know that I’ve tried everything I can think of to get out of here.” The Kaiser began to chuckle, and Yamato felt a knot twist in his stomach. He forced himself to remain calm when he continued, “Ah, you’re here to gloat about something. Did you finally grow your first chest hair?” The chuckling slowly faded, and the Kaiser took a step closer to the bars of his cell.

“I found something rather interesting, and I thought you should be kept informed,” he said coolly. Whatever caused the Kaiser to chuckle could not be good, and the fact that he was delivering it in person only increased the likelihood that that he expected it to be somewhat devastating.

The Kaiser clicked his fingers, and Yamato twisted his neck to see the panels on the back wall of his cell shiver and morph into a large screen. He raised an eyebrow; the Kaiser might only be a kid, but Yamato had to admit that he had an impressive set up. The screen sprang to life with a burst of static, and two images appeared. On the far left, Yamato saw the top of a thick forest bathed in a burning heat, while on the right the land seemed colder and the trees further apart. The screens zoomed in, with the image on the left closing in on a small enclosure that wasn’t covered by trees. A twitch in the foliage, and Yamato saw a head of navy hair emerge from the bushes.

He bit the inside of his cheek to hide his surprise, and was happy that his head was turned away from the Kaiser.

“A friend of yours; am I right?” the Kaiser prompted. Yamato let out a shuddering breath and shrugged as Jou paused to rub his glasses and talk to someone out of sight.

“An acquaintance,” he said, trying to keep his voice vague and passive. This only seemed to make the Kaiser chuckle more.

“So just a friend in passing? A distant memory? I’m sure you wouldn’t mind then if something were to happen to him.” The screen on the right flickered as the image began to play, and at first he saw tiny wolf-like creatures chasing two ants across the ground. “What about them?” the Kaiser asked. “I could always pick them off and leave your acquaintance unharmed.”

The image zoomed in, and Yamato realised with a terrified gasp that they weren’t small digimon, they were giant trees, and the ants were in fact all too recognisable.

“No…” he breathed, feeling faint. Hikari had grown since he’d last seen her, but she looked just as small as ever as she sprinted away from the oncoming hoard. Close on her heels, Tailmon darted this way and that, deflecting what attacks she could with her tail. The Kaiser chuckled as Hikari stumbled and fell, and Yamato felt his heart jump to his throat as he watched the girl tumble through snow-dusted grass. In a heartbeat, she had unhooked the bow from around her shoulders and knocked an arrow, and with a silent yell she released it at the nearest wolf, fracturing the dark ring around its collar. Tailmon darted between its paws and swung at the ring with a furious cry. The ring shattered, and the wolf stumbled slightly, causing his brothers to falter. As he began to turn on his kin, urging them to stop, the Kaiser grunted and snapped his fingers again. Hikari and Tailmon disappeared as the image of Jou filled the screen.

“What about him?” the Kaiser asked. Yamato was about to snap that he’d already spoken for Jou when another figure emerged from the trees. At first, the body of vines and leaves made Yamato wonder if Gomamon had found himself a new evolution, but then his eye caught the shaggy blonde hair, the warm blue eyes, the winning smile-

“NO!” he roared, throwing himself to his feet. The room was filled with a burst of static, and suddenly Yamato was listening to the sound he had missed most: Takeru’s laughter. It was just as bright and hopeful as ever, and Yamato felt weak as he beheld his brother for the first time in years.

“So there is a connection,” the Kaiser drawled with a sneer. “And here I thought that it was just a happy coincidence. Such a shame he won’t survive to meet you for a family reunion.” Yamato threw himself at the bars, gripping them tightly.

“Don’t you touch him!” he ordered. “If you hurt him, I’ll-”

“You’ll what?” the Kaiser asked, smirking. “Set your digimon on me? Oh, I’m terrified. A shame that he won’t be able to help you either; the next time you see your little friend, he’ll be wearing one of these.” He revealed a Dark Ring from under his cloak, and Yamato reached for him, wanting nothing more than to feel the satisfying impact of his fist on the boy’s pre-pubescent jaw. The Kaiser stood confidently out of reach, barely flinching. “Maybe I should set your Gabumon on him… Now that is a rendezvous I wouldn’t want to miss! Perhaps I’ll even bring you up to the bridge so you can watch it with me.”

Yamato’s heart skipped several painful beats, and his words died in his throat. The Kaiser laughed all the way down the dark corridor, his chuckles echoing as he strutted away. Yamato turned back to the screen, taking in every detail of his little brother. He looked so much older, and Yamato wondered how much of the eight-year-old remained. Whereas Yamato remembered him barely taller than Jou’s hip, Takeru now stood almost at a height with Jou; just less than a head shorter. He was covered from the neck down in greenery and shrubbery, and Yamato saw a green helmet tucked under his arm. The strange attire disguised most of Takeru’s body, but from what he could tell Takeru had inherited the same long, lanky limbs as Yamato. A small yell made Yamato jump, and suddenly Patamon emerged from the trees behind them, circling through the air before taking his all-to-familiar perch atop Takeru’s head. Yamato smiled; some things never changed.

He kept staring long after the screens were taken away from him, and when he closed his eyes he saw Takeru smiling back at him.

Chapter Text

 


A DEADLY FRIEND


He hitched his school bag higher as he ran through the halls, skidding around the final corner and heaving the door to the computer lab open.

“Hey! I’m here-”

“Daisuke!” Miyako snapped with a scowl. “You’re late! We were supposed to leave ten minutes ago!” Her arms were wrapped tightly around Poromon, and Daisuke tried not to laugh as she squeezed and Poromon’s eyes bulged dangerously like the bug-eyed squeeze toy Daisuke had bought at Daiso a couple of months ago. Poromon let out a strangled chirp as he wriggled his way out of Miyako’s grip, more than a little disgruntled at being used as a stress ball judging by the way he hurried out of Miyako’s reach and took to preening his feathers.

Daisuke had been as shocked as everyone else when the digimon had made it through the gate with them, and after they’d untangled themselves from the heap he’d been even more surprised to see that they’d gotten smaller (which made sense, he guessed – if digimon could get bigger, then of course they could get smaller). Koushiro had suggested they keep their partners close and hidden, and so DemiVeemon had been hiding in Daisuke’s gym bag through his morning classes. Daisuke closed the door to the lab with a grin and heaved his bag up on to the table.

“Chill out, Miyako,” he said with a wave of his hand, which only seemed to make her angrier. He grinned to himself as he pulled back the zipper on his bag. DemiVeemon rolled out with a dramatic gasp, as though surfacing from the deep end of a pool, and he peeled an off-white sock away from his face with a grimace (“Sorry, buddy. It’s clean! I think…” Daisuke chuckled). DemiVeemon was several inches smaller than Veemon and had lost his fangs and his gold markings, but none of his energy or appetite. Daisuke had been woken in the early hours of the morning by a sinister rustling sound, and when Daisuke had turned on the light he’d found DemiVeemon buried in the empty candy wrappers from the stash Daisuke kept under his bed. DemiVeemon scampered up to Poromon and peered over the edge of the desk.

“Is that food?” he asked, staring down at the iMart bag on the floor as though he hadn’t just demolished the better part of Daisuke’s lunch. Upamon – a soccer-sized ball of cream fur sporting three strange, long tufts on either side of his head – looked up from where he had been sucking on a jelly pouch. Miyako folded her arms and waved her hand towards it.

“Sure, go ahead,” she huffed. Veemon let out an elated yell and dove head-first in to the bag, making Upamon jump so badly he rolled backwards in to Iori’s legs. Iori scooped him up and held him close to his chest, staring at DemiVeemon with a disapproving frown. Over Iori’s shoulder, Daisuke saw Koushiro frantically tapping at the computer keyboard with Sora hovering anxiously over his shoulder.

“Where’s Taichi?” Daisuke asked. Koushiro stopped typing and Sora’s shoulders stiffened. After a moment she straightened and smoothed her skirt.

“Taichi had to go out of town.”

“What?” Daisuke exploded. “Since when was a road trip more important than the Digital World? I thought he wanted to find Hikari!” Sora chewed her lip, glancing at the back of Koushiro’s head.

“It’s… it’s not as simple as that, Daisuke.” she said at last, not quite meeting his gaze. Her voice was quiet, and a tense silence settled over the room. Even the digimon were giving Sora their full attention, their half-eaten feast forgotten. Sora shifted her weight and knitted her fingers together. “It’s…” She hesitated and Koushiro turned away from the computer.

“Are you sure you want to tell them?” Koushiro asked quietly. Sora froze for a moment before nodding, and her fingers curled in to determined fists.

“I think they need to know,” she answered. “They need to understand.” Koushiro nodded.

“And Taichi?”

“Let me deal with Taichi.” Koushiro pursed his lips and nodded slowly, turning away from the computer with a grim expression.

“Is something the matter?” Iori asked quietly. Sora pulled a chair from a nearby desk and motioned for the others to do the same. DemiVeemon looked between Sora and the food, and at her slight nod he dug in. For a long while the only sound in the room was the rustling of wrappers and cartons until Sora took a deep breath.

“After our last adventure, not all of us made it home,” she began softly. “You’ve met Jou and you’ve… you’ve seen Yamato. Daisuke has met Hikari, Taichi’s sister, and there was Yamato’s brother, Takeru. The gates didn’t work back then like they do now; we had no way of controlling them. After our last fight we all got separated, and they didn’t make it to the gate before it closed. We had to go home without them, thinking we’d never see them again.”

“That’s awful,” Miyako whispered, gripping the edge of her seat.

“Our parents all saw the final battle, and they were waiting for us when we returned. They knew what it meant when only four of us came back, but we still had to tell them what happened and Taichi’s mum… she kind of just… shut down. Losing Hikari really hit her hard and she never really recovered.”

“What about their father?” Iori asked, his voice thick and raspy.

“He… It’s been difficult for him to cope. He spends a lot of time at work. His company offered him a job in an office on the other side of Saitama, and they needed the money for his mother’s medicine and care. He spends most of his time in Okegawa. He works long hours, so it’s easier for him to stay near the office. Sometimes he doesn’t come home for days or even weeks.”

“So Taichi’s been looking after his mother all alone,” Iori murmured. Daisuke’s heart lodged itself in his throat and he felt his eyes begin to burn. He’d had no idea… Taichi had always been so upbeat at practice, so eager to put the team through their paces, and Daisuke had always looked up to his dedication to the game – to the countless hours he spent on the pitch before and after school. Now he wondered if he spent so much time in the field in order to avoid spending time at home.

“His father tries to help, but it’s… difficult,” Sora continued. “This is the first time he’s taken a vacation in at least a year. Maybe longer. Taichi said he came home last night and insisted that they all go away for a while. They’ve gone to visit Taichi’s aunt in Odawara.”

“Couldn’t Taichi explain that he had to stay?” Daisuke asked. “If he finds Hikari, that’ll help, right?” Sora and Koushiro both shook their heads.

“The Digital World is a forbidden topic in Taichi’s home,” Koushiro explained. “It upsets his mother too much, and his father won’t hear a word of it. They don’t know that the gates are open again, or that Daisuke’s had contact with Hikari.”

“Taichi’s been able to make excuses to stay after school,” Sora picked up, “and when his dad’s out of town it’s somewhat easier, but there was nothing he could say to get out of this. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be gone, but he thinks it’s at least a week. Probably more.”

A tense silence hung over the room, and Daisuke glanced at the others. Iori sat in solemn contemplation, hugging Upamon close to his chest. Miyako looked like she was trying not to cry, but as she sniffled Daisuke saw a tear slip out from behind her glasses as Poromon burrowed nervously in her lap. Even DemiVeemon had stopped rummaging through the food at some point during the explanation and was glancing between Sora and Daisuke with a half-eaten chocolate bar hanging from his lips. Daisuke growled and shot to his feet.

“Well then, we’re just going to have to find Hikari and bring her home!” he exclaimed. He turned towards the computer and whipped out his digivice. “Let’s-”

The door flew open and the words died in his throat as a girl Daisuke didn’t recognise peered in to the room. She was dressed all in white, and her long black hair had been tied back in two tight braids. Keen eyes quickly scanned the room before landing on Sora.

“There you are!” she exclaimed, stepping inside. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Koichi said he saw you coming this way. Are you ready? You’re not even changed yet!” Sora blinked in surprise, her mouth hanging open, and the girl planted her hands on her hips. “Sora, don’t tell me you forgot! The doubles match? This afternoon? Against Shijomae…” Sora gasped and her hands flew to her mouth.

“Ami, I’m so sorry!” she breathed. “I’ve been busy with… well, I’ve been busy!” Ami stared at Daisuke and the others, and her eyes wandered to the digimon who had become so still that they almost looked like plush toys.

“I see…” she murmured, before turning her attention back to Sora. “Well coach isn’t going to let you back out. We’re already down Susume; we can’t lose you as well.” Sora bit her lip and turned to Koushiro who smiled.

“It’s all right, Sora. I’m sure we can schedule a one-to-one session so I can catch you up on anything you miss today. And I’m sure Miyako wouldn’t mind lending you her notes.” Miyako blinked and stared at Koushiro for a moment as if he’d grown a third leg before suddenly leaping to her feet.

“Y-yes! Of course!” she said, following it up with a grin that was so forced she looked deranged. Koushiro’s face fell a little and Sora laughed nervously before hurrying to usher Ami from the room, throwing one last apologetic look over her shoulder as she shut the door behind them.

“Looks like it’s just us then,” Koushiro said warmly. “Daisuke, if you would, please.”

The gate spat them out into a field of lush, turquoise grass lined with purple-trunked trees. Daisuke rolled to his knees, gulping in the crisp air and trying to revel in the feeling of being back in the Digital World, but his good mood was soured with thoughts of Taichi and his family. He’d spent hours wondering what it must have been like for Hikari, living in a world of monsters and adventure (and in several daydreams Daisuke had been right there beside her instead of stuck behind a desk), but he’d never spared a thought to what it must have been like for Taichi. Daisuke’s sister, Jun, might have been a pain in the ass, but for all the trouble she gave him he didn’t think he’d ever want to live without her. Not really.

Daisuke glanced down at his digivice, studying the map intently. Hikari had a digivice like Taichi and the others, so her dot would be white; he made a promise to himself (and to Taichi) to keep a lookout for any new dots that appeared on his radar. Maybe Koushiro could figure out a way to take control of the gates so they could pick and choose where they would land. Daisuke hadn’t forgotten the Kaiser’s warning, and the only thing stopping Daisuke from dragging the others north with him was the fact that he hadn’t quite figured out how to tell which way was north in the Digital World.

“Daisuke?” A small tug on his sleeve drew his attention to Veemon who was staring at him with concerned eyes. “What’cha thinking about?” Daisuke flashed his partner a smile.

“Nothin’, buddy,” he answered, scooping the digimon in to his arms and hurrying after the others.

Koushiro was walking in slow circles with Miyako at his side, both of them staring at their digivices while Hawkmon fluttered several paces behind them. At last they seemed to spot something worth investigating, and they led the way across the field to where the grass stopped suddenly and the ground disappeared. Daisuke wondered if maybe they’d reached the end of the world – like the edge of a map – but as he tip-toed closer he saw that the world continued as far as the eye could see. They were just high up, walking along the edge of a ledge that jutted out over a crystalline lake far below. Daisuke watched the shadows flitting beneath the surface, realising just how high he was, and his head began to spin. While normally good with heights (he had been the first to say that the Odaiba Ferris wheel wasn’t big enough), the drop made his stomach churn, and when Koushiro cautioned him about straying too far from the others he was quick to make his way back to them.

“I wonder where we are this time?” Iori was asking as he approached.

“I don’t know,” Koushiro murmured in response. He lifted his head to scan their surroundings before pointing towards the cliff edge. “My digivice says there’s something in that direction, but I have no idea how we’re going to get down there.” Daisuke looked at his digivice to see if he could see it to and – sure enough – there was a small white dot in the corner of his screen. “Daisuke, did you see a way down?” Daisuke looked up with a shake of his head.

“There’s a lake,” he said, “but we’re way too high, and I think there was somethin’ swimmin’ in it.” Koushiro pursed his lips and nodded.

“I think it’s best we avoid large bodies of water,” he said, and Daisuke wasn’t sure if he sounded a bit nervous about it. Hawkmon cleared his throat and stepped forwards.

“Perhaps I could evolve to Holsmon and take Miyako down to have a look,” he offered. Koushiro frowned again.

“I don’t like the idea of you two going off on your own.”

“They don’t have to be alone!” Daisuke proclaimed. “Holsmon can take a couple of us, right?” Hawkmon grimaced a little and Miyako folded her arms.

“Don’t be so rude,” she snapped. Daisuke gaped.

“Rude?! How was that rude?!”

“You don’t just ask someone to carry you!” she hissed. “How would you like it if I asked Fladramon to give me a piggyback?” Daisuke planted his fists on his hips and glared.

“Well I didn’t know you’d be all prissy about it. He didn’t have a problem givin’ people a ride before-”

“That’s because he offered!” She stomped her foot and the ground trembled. Daisuke tilted sideways with a yelp, his arms windmill-ing wildly to keep him from falling over. By the time Daisuke had recovered, Miyako’s eyes had gone wide and he laughed, folding his arms.

“Jeez, Miyako, you need to lay off the snacks-”

“I don’t think that was necessary,” Iori said quietly.

“That wasn’t me, you idiot!” She stomped her foot again and the ground gave another violent shudder, and Daisuke couldn’t stop the cackle that rose in his throat.

“Are you sure? Because I think-”

“We should be quiet,” Koushiro hissed. The ground shuddered again.

“Someone’s coming,” Hawkmon murmured.

“Are they likely to be our friend?” Iori asked. Koushiro glanced down to his digivice.

“Probably not,” he murmured as the ground trembled again. “We should get moving. We’ll go back the way we came and see if-”

The treeline exploded. Flaming branches and leaves spiralled through the air as Miyako screamed. Daisuke fought to keep his balance as the ground gave another ominous tremor. A white behemoth lumbered through the flames; it was covered in thick white fur which gave way only for the creature’s gleaming red eyes and black paws which were each home to three blood-red claws. It was at least three times as tall as Daisuke, not including the fierce black horn that rose from its forehead, and as it opened its mouth in a deafening bellow Daisuke saw two rows of fierce white teeth set between two long, menacing tusks. It thundered towards them, each heavy footstep making Daisuke’s teeth rattle, and as the fur around its leg shifted Daisuke caught sight of the thick black band of a dark ring.

“Ikkakumon!” Koushiro gasped.

“You know him?!” Miyako squeaked as the creature growled and lowered its head at them. Ikkakumon’s eyes narrowed and the fur around his horn began to belch smoke.

“Run!” Koushiro cried.

“Harpoon Vulcan!” The horn launched like a missile, leaving behind a trail of fire and smoke as it sped towards them. Daisuke’s feet were rooted to the floor, his eyes glued to the horn, and it took a headbutt to the gut from Veemon to knock him out of the way of the attack. The horn landed nearby and exploded with a roar that left Daisuke’s ears ringing. He rolled on to his side with a groan, pressing the heels of his hands against his ears, and he felt Veemon tugging at his wrist.

“Daisuke!” Daisuke barely heard him, but he certainly felt a pull in his chest. He rolled on to his knees and looked for the others; they were clustered together some distance away, slowly pulling themselves back to their feet on the other side of the fire. Daisuke grit his teeth and stood, tightening his grip on his digivice as he thrust it in to the air.

“Digimental-”

“Northern Light!” An icy wind barrelled towards them. Daisuke planted his feet and ducked behind his arms, but the gust was too strong and it quickly knocked him off balance. The ice spread beneath him and soon he was speeding across the ground towards the edge of the cliff. He swallowed a scream and scrambled wildly, but the only thing he could grab hold of was Veemon’s tail as they went tumbling over the edge of the cliff. Someone screamed, but the sound was lost beneath the wind rushing past Daisuke’s ears as they hurtled towards the lake below. Daisuke caught sight of a shadow nearby before he crashed in to the lake, but his scream was stifled by a lungful of water and his vision was quickly swallowed by darkness.


Miyako was screaming, Iori was still as stone, and Koushiro’s heart was firmly wedged in his throat as Ikkakumon lowered his horn towards them again.

“Get down!” he cried, tackling Iori to the ground as Hawkmon dove for Miyako. Koushiro rolled away from Iori and his eyes met Armadimon’s. The little digimon had planted himself close to Iori, though there was a nervous uncertainty that flashed across his face as Ikkakumon released another deafening bellow. Koushiro glanced across to Miyako who had curled herself into a tight ball and was sobbing in to her knees while Hawkmon stroked her trembling shoulder with the tips of his wings. Then he looked to Iori who was silent and white as a sheet. Neither would be viable sources of energy for their partners; Koushiro still wasn’t sure how the Digimentals worked, but judging by the haze and fatigue that settled over them whenever their partners reverted he could only assume that it wasn’t entirely dissimilar to the more traditional style of evolution. If that wasn’t an option, it left them with only one viable course of action.

“We have to run!” Koushiro called. Miyako’s head snapped towards him.

“We can’t outrun that!”

“We can; Ikkakumon is slow on land.” Not slow enough to guarantee them a clean getaway, but slow enough that if they started running now they stood a good chance of making it to cover before Ikkakumon could catch them. He stood and quickly pulled Iori to his feet. “Come on, we have to go.”

“Miyako,” Hawkmon pressed, one eye fixed on Ikkakumon, “I do think we should listen. If we don’t move now then we’ll have to try and fight and-” Miyako shot to her feet in a flash, and she quickly made a beeline towards the trees with a nervous squeal. Iori scooped Armadimon up from the ground and followed Koushiro as they ran after her. Ikkakumon continued to advance, and the ground trembled with every heavy footstep; Koushiro lost his foot more than once, and it was pure adrenaline that kept him on his feet then.

They caught up to Miyako at the tree line. She was resting against a thick purple trunk, leaning heavily on her knees and wheezing, and Koushiro fought the urge to stop and join her.

“We have to keep moving,” he said.

“But where are we going?” she whimpered. Tears were streaming down her flushed cheeks, and her lower lip was trembling. Koushiro swallowed thickly.

“We can’t stay here.” It didn’t entirely answer her question, but the ground trembled again and Miyako whimpered. Hawkmon reached up to pat her elbow with his wing.

“He’s right, Miyako, we really should keep moving.” With a noise that was somewhere between a whine and a sob, Miyako pushed herself away from the tree and started running again.

Koushiro wasn’t a leader, he thought as he did his best to guide them through the trees. Taichi would have had a plan by now; something for them to do once they stopped running. Sora would have been able to calm Miyako and Iori long enough for them to make a stand. But him? He was good at numbers and computers and puzzles. Anything involving adrenaline and giving out orders was most definitely outside of his comfort zone.

Still, it was all he could do to try and help Miyako and Iori. He risked a glance back over his shoulder; Iori was keeping up, despite the terror on his face and the heavy digimon in his arms, but Miyako was beginning to struggle. Her face was practically puce, and her breath was coming in short gasps as she continued to cry, her eyes wide and terrified like a mouse before a lion. Koushiro was the closest thing they had to a leader, and when he spied a slope of smooth mud that would veer them sharply off towards a new path that was much too small for Ikkakumon, he didn’t hesitate.

“This way!” he cried. He paused to catch his breath and usher the others down the mudslide. Iori went first, with Armadimon whooping and hollering in his arms while Iori grit his teeth and held tight to his partner. Miyako threw herself down the slope with a scream that didn’t stop until she reached the bottom. Koushiro took a deep breath and swallowed a scream of his own as he followed, just in time to avoid a wave of fire as the forest exploded behind them.

As soon as Koushiro reached the bottom he was on his feet, pulling the others with him as they took off running again. Miyako let out a anxious wail but pushed herself on nonetheless, staggering after them as the canopy overhead began raining fiery, smoking leaves. Ikkakumon may not have been able to follow them, but his attacks certainly could. Koushiro was grateful for the dense foliage overhead when the next attack splashed harmlessly across the blanket of leaves above. Miyako screamed as a smouldering leaf landed on her shoulder. Koushiro choked on the smell of burning hair. Hawkmon sped on ahead, calling for them to watch out for raised roots and burrow-holes in the ground, and then:

“This way! I’ve found a place we can hide!”

The smoke was sinking beneath the canopy, and Koushiro’s legs and lungs were beginning to burn. Hawkmon led them through the trees until they found themselves pressed against the edge of a cliff. They skirted rocks for several minutes before Hawkmon led them in to a cave. It wasn’t particularly big, but it was deep enough that they could hunker against the back wall. Miyako curled in to a tight ball, burying her face in her knees amidst smothered sobs. Iori collapsed in a shaking heap next to Armadimon, his glassy eyes staring blankly towards the outside of the cave. Armadimon settled next to him, nuzzling his arm until Iori finally draped it over his shell, though the gesture seemed hollow and absent.

Ikkakumon roared in the distance and Miyako whimpered again. For a fleeting moment Koushiro dared to hope they were safe. He entertained the idea that perhaps Ikkakumon might forget about them and move on to new prey, only to quickly dismiss the thought. Ikkakumon wasn’t a digimon defending his territory; he was being controlled by the Kaiser, and it was far more likely that he wouldn’t stop hunting them until the Kaiser provided him with new instructions.

And so Koushiro had a choice. Move too soon and Ikkakumon could be on their scent, close enough to begin his assault again. But wait too long and it could be the Kaiser they were facing instead, or any number of controlled minions he chose to send after them. Miyako and Iori needed time to calm down and gather their wits, but then there was Daisuke. Koushiro hadn’t seen him fall but he’d heard the splash as he’d hit the water. He glanced down at his digivice and sighed; they’d run too far to see his signal. Veemon had been with him, but then Koushiro had no idea how the digimon would fare in water. His mind began running in overdrive, playing out scenarios each more grim than the last.

“What do we do now, Koushiro?” Armadimon asked quietly. Koushiro glanced around the cave. Everything was silent now; Miyako had stopped sobbing and Ikkakumon had stopped roaring. Iori had curled up in to a tight ball and was resting his chin on his knees. What now? It was a good question, and one that Koushiro didn’t have an immediate answer for. They needed to go back for Daisuke, but going back would mean fighting past Ikkakumon. He tightened his fingers around his digivice and wished Tentomon were here. Even if he couldn’t digivolve, his partner would have been someone to bounce ideas and strategies off.

Their only chance of fighting their way back past Ikkakumon lay with Holsmon and Digmon, but Miyako and Iori were in no state to help their partners evolve. Not yet. Koushiro stifled a sigh and slid slowly down the cavern wall, landing heavily on his rear as he glanced back to Armadimon. “Now… Now we wait.”

“What about Daisuke?” Iori croaked, his voice faint and trembling. Koushiro swallowed thickly.

“Daisuke… will be fine,” he said. If he had inherited Taichi’s crest, then perhaps he had inherited Taichi’s luck and resilience too. He said it again, this time with more vigour as he desperately prayed for Daisuke to prove him right.


He remembered hitting the water. It felt like someone had slapped him on the back and forced all the air from his lungs. He remembered breathing water. He remembered kicking, unable to figure out which way was up. He remembered thinking it was the first time he’d been able to keep his eyes open underwater. The water made his lungs burn, and the more he struggled the worse it grew until his whole body was on fire. Something gripped his arm, digging in to his skin as it dragged him through the water, but when he turned his head all he saw was blinding white. The ringing in his ears was growing louder. He remembered seeing the sun through the surface of the water before he saw nothing but darkness.

He came to some time later with the sun on his face and the taste of berries on his lips. For a while all he could do was be; something was jabbing him in the back, but his body was too heavy to move. He twitched his fingers, digging them in to the sand. He vaguely remembered retching water, accompanied by the faint sound of someone calling his name. How long ago had that been?

It took great effort to peel his eyes open, and the blinding sunlight made him groan. He sat up slowly, running his hands through his sopping hair, and when his fingers couldn’t find his goggles he was ready to panic until they suddenly landed in his lap accompanied by a musical laugh.

“Here.”

Her voice was just as soft as he remembered, and it caused a pleasant warmth to swell in his chest. He watched her delicately wring the water from her hair, and when she caught his eye she smiled. Daisuke felt himself melt; no girl had ever smiled at him like that before. He watched as she plucked a whittled stick from the ground and poked it through her hair. She twisted and turned it until, in no time at all, the hair was gathered at the base of her neck.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. His heart was wedged in his throat, and no amount of swallowing could get it un-stuck. He was relieved – truly relieved – to see her again. The Kaiser’s warning often came to Daisuke in his sleep, leaving him with nightmares of her freezing, and not two nights ago he’d been startled awake by the sight of her blood in the snow.

Tailmon cleared her throat from behind Hikari’s shoulder and Daisuke blinked, catching himself staring and quickly fumbling with his goggles, snapping them painfully over his head with the broadest smile he could muster.

“Me? I’m great!” he announced. Tailmon arched an eyebrow.

“Well you ruined a perfectly good picnic,” Tailmon retorted. Hikari turned and motioned for her to shush and Tailmon rolled her eyes and batted Hikari’s hand away with her paws. As Hikari shifted Daisuke caught sight of Veemon; he was lying on his back, a hand resting upon his swollen stomach, surrounded by upturned boxes and bags. His berry-stained lips were smiling in his sleep, and Daisuke was left with the impression that if anyone was to blame for destroying the picnic, it was his partner. He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck.

“I’ll…uh… I’ll make it up to you?” he offered, though he wasn’t too sure exactly how he would do that. (Pizza! He’d buy her pizza! Her and Taichi. He didn’t quite have enough pocket money saved up to treat all three of them, but he could probably score a few extra yen by taking Jun’s chores for a week. Maybe two. It’d be totally worth it.) Hikari’s hand appeared in front of his face; she was standing now, and offering him a hand to his feet which he gratefully accepted with a grin.

“Don’t worry,” she said with a light laugh, “there will be other picnics.” She lead him over to the blankets where she picked up a small bundle of fabric which she offered towards him. “I managed to save some before Veemon ate them all. Do you want them?” His stomach rumbled and he cleared his throat to cover the sound, hoping she hadn’t heard it as he carefully unfolded the kerchief to reveal a selection of berries. He stared at them with a frown, not really recognising any of them; they looked kinda like berries from back home, but the colours were all wrong. Hikari smiled and talked him through them; the large, pink balls tasted like strawberries, while the orange blackcurrant-like berries tasted of pears. Others tasted like cranberries and grapes and blueberries, each one looking nothing like their flavour, but each exploded in his mouth with a rush of flavour.

“So what was happening up there?” Hikari asked when he was finished, taking the berry-stained cloth to the edge of the lake to rinse it in the still water. “You were making a lot of noise.”

“We were attacked by one of the Kaiser’s digimon,” he answered. “He had one of those dark rings on him.”

“He sounded strong,” Tailmon murmured. Daisuke nodded.

“Yeah, he was big. Koushiro recognised him.”

“Koushiro?” Hikari asked, her face lighting up. “He’s here?”

“Yeah! He-”

“Who was the digimon?” Tailmon interrupted. “What did he look like?”

“Well he had these big tusks, and a horn… lots of white fur… Koushiro called him Ikkaka… uh… Ikkaki-”

“Ikkakumon?”

“Yeah! That was it!” he answered. Hikari and Tailmon glanced to each other, and he couldn’t tell whether they looked scared or relieved. “You guys know him too?” Hikari nodded and wrung the last of the water from her kerchief before tying it around her neck.

“He’s an old friend,” Tailmon answered, her expression grim as she began packing away what was left of the picnic. She prodded Veemon in the side and he murmured in his sleep.

“Did Koushiro have Tentomon with him? His partner?” Hikari asked. Daisuke shook his head.

“Nah, but they’ll be okay. Miyako and Iori have Hawkmon and Armadimon, and they can armour evolve just like Veemon.” He scooped Veemon up from the blankets and cradled him in the crook of his arm to try and nudge him awake.

“Are they the new Chosen? Like you?” Hikari asked. Daisuke nodded and poked Veemon’s cheek.

“That’s right, you haven’t met them yet! Yeah, they’re like me. Got new digivices like mine, but Koushiro’s started callin’ them D-3s because they’re different to the ones you have. Stands for Digital, Detect and… and somethin’ else, but it begins with a D.” He tugged on Veemon’s ear but Veemon rolled over and buried his face in Daisuke’s shirt. Daisuke continued jostling him. “Iori’s cool, I guess. Bit quiet. Miyako’s all nag, nag, nag though – she’s so loud – c’mon, buddy, you gotta get up.” He rolled Veemon on to his back and plugged his nose.

“Is he okay?” Tailmon asked with a concerned frown. Daisuke grinned.

“He’s a heavy sleeper.”

Veemon awoke with a gasp, gulping in air and pushing Daisuke’s fingers away from his face with a disoriented splutter. Eventually he gathered his bearings enough to glare up at Daisuke.

“You’re tryna kill me!” he whined.

“Sorry, buddy, but we gotta move.” Veemon sniffed and wriggled out of Daisuke’s grip, landing heavily on the sand and stifling a yawn in to his fist. Tailmon bundled up the rest of the blankets and secured them to one of the packs, and when Hikari reached for it Daisuke rushed forwards.

“Let me help!” he said eagerly. Hikari fixed him with a strange look before smiling.

“All right, if you’re sure,” she said, holding the bag out to him. He reached for the strap, and when their fingers brushed Daisuke felt his face flush. He coughed, hoping that Hikari hadn’t noticed, but she was staring up at the cliff. She let the bag fall in to his hands and Daisuke choked back a yelp as the sudden weight nearly dragged him to his knees. Hikari retrieved her bow and arrow from the shadow of a nearby tree as Tailmon bounded towards him.

“You okay there?” she asked with a sly smirk. Her blue eyes glinted and Daisuke forced a smile.

“Yeah, fine,” he answered, trying his best not to wheeze. Hikari’s bag was heavier than his school bag and his gym bag combined, and yet it was easily half the size. He’d thought it was just handbag’s that were deceptively heavy (judging by the weight of the small purse Jun had thrown at his head last week) but it looked as though he couldn’t trust any woman’s bag, no matter the size. He hauled it on to his back and stood tall, pretending not to see how Tailmon was trying not to laugh at him. If Hikari could walk through the woods with this rucksack, then he could run.

Chapter Text

 


CLIMBING BACK UP


After leaving the lake, Hikari had taken them to a well-worn path that led up through the trees which would take them to the top of the cliff. The straps of Hikari’s makeshift pack were digging in to Daisuke’s shoulders, and he had to keep flexing his fingers every so often to make sure they hadn’t fallen off. Hikari offered to take the pack more than once, and every time he turned her down with a grin. He’d offered to take it, and take it he would (even if it made his fingers tingle).

When Tailmon spied a group of ghost-like digimon (“Bakemon,” she’d hissed) floating on the path ahead she had quickly ushered them deeper in to the trees. The ground was booby-trapped with pot holes and burrows and littered with leaves the size of Daisuke’s hand, and the process soon slowed to accommodate the uneven ground. He bit back his complaints, following Hikari as she floated gracefully through the forest, hopping over vines and fallen branches with practiced ease. Daisuke was much slower, keeping one eye on the ground to avoid tripping.

“So what do you do?” Daisuke asked as he dragged himself over another large tree root. Several feet ahead, Hikari hopped lightly over a patch of vines and turned back to face him.

“What do you mean?” she asked. Daisuke tried to land gracefully, but the pack threw him off balance and he stumbled. Veemon ran to his side and tried to hold him steady, but his little arms barely managed to scrape Daisuke’s elbow. Daisuke flashed him a grateful smile anyway and straightened, hitching the pack a little higher.

“In the Digital World,” he said. “What do you do all the time? Do you have… I dunno, school and stuff?” Hikari smiled and shook her head.

“No school.”

“That sounds amazing,” he laughed stumbling after her. She waited for him to catch up before carrying on, and she offered him her hand to help him across another bulging root. This one came up to Daisuke’s thigh, and Daisuke accepted the offer with a silent nod of thanks.

“I think I’d take history over running for my life any day,” she said lightly, brushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Her fingers caught the small scar on her cheek and she winced.

“What happened?” Daisuke asked. Hikari smiled again, though this one was different, and she quickly turned away.

“I fell,” she answered. As her arm caught the sunlight Daisuke saw the mottled purple-green marks that were splashed across her skin. He reached for her arm before he could stop himself, pulling it back in to the light.

“And broke your wrist?” he asked, examining the bruises that spilled across the top of her hand. Hikari quickly pulled it out of his grip and tucked the arm behind her.

“I’m just clumsy,” she said with a sheepish smile. Up ahead, Tailmon’s ears canted back and she glanced at Hikari before pressing forwards again with Veemon close behind her. Hikari ducked her head and carried on; Daisuke tried to glance at her wrist again, but she was walking with her hands clasped in front of her, blocking her hands from view. He adjusted the pack again and took off after her, carefully picking his way through the leaves and branches to try and catch up.

“I met Jou,” he said when he was beside her again, and the tension in her shoulders melted in an instant. She turned towards him with a smile that encouraged him to continue. “He got left behind, just like you thought. He’s made this little hospital for all the injured digimon. And we met Gabumon. They’re friends of yours, right?” Hikari’s eyes widened.

“You met Gabumon?” she breathed. Daisuke nodded. “And Yamato? What about Yamato?” Daisuke swallowed thickly, remembering the sight of the unconscious blonde hovering over Santa Geria.

“He… ah… we didn’t meet him, but I saw him,” he answered. “He’s the Kaiser’s prisoner.” A tear spilled down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away, glancing towards the digimon up ahead.

“Tailmon!” she cried. Tailmon turned with a smile.

“I heard!” she answered. Hikari let out a strangled laugh and Daisuke frowned.

“You’re… you’re happy that he’s the Kaiser’s prisoner?”

“I’m happy that he’s alive!” she gasped. She brushed away the tears and took a deep breath. “He… the last time we saw him and Gabumon, there was a fire. We couldn’t find them after that and we thought… It doesn’t matter. At least we know they’re okay.” Daisuke didn’t quite think that being a prisoner was ‘okay’, but Hikari had already moved on. “What about Taichi? How is he?” Daisuke tried to grin, but then he remembered what Sora and Koushiro had told them earlier and the smile faltered. He hoped Hikari hadn’t noticed.

“He’s good! He’s out of town with his – with your parents. They… uh… they needed to get… out of town for a bit...” he finished lamely. He cleared his throat and hopped across a narrow stream before turning back to Hikari and holding out a hand to help her across. She didn’t need it, he knew, but she smiled and took it anyway. “He misses you.”

She stepped across slowly, pausing for a second on the bank before pulling away.

“I miss him too.”

“Well why don’t you come back with me?” he asked. She shook her head and adjusted the scarf around her neck.

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can! These new digivices can get you guys through the gate too-”

“No, it’s not that,” she murmured, though her voice was quiet. She turned away and started after the digimon. “We have too much to do here, with the Kaiser and his digimon. Now that we know that we can break the dark rings, we can help more digimon, and they say that if you destroy those dark towers then digimon can evolve again-”

She tilted sideways with a yelp, her toe snared in a vine, and she twisted as she fell. Daisuke reached for her, trying to keep her on her feet, but he only managed to grab the handkerchief tied around her neck. It hung limply from his fingers as she fell heavily to the ground.

For a moment she lay there, gasping for breath, until her coughing turned to giggling. Tailmon and Veemon barrelled back towards them, with Tailmon rushing to her partner’s side, but Hikari waved her away with a reassuring smile.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” she said, sitting up slowly and rubbing at her shoulder. “I just tripped. See?” she added, turning to Daisuke with a bashful grin. “I told you I was clumsy.” Daisuke couldn’t help but smile back at her, and he reached down to grasp her uninjured wrist and pull her back to her feet. She tossed her hair back out of her face and dusted the leaves and dirt from her shoulders. Daisuke waited until she had readjusted her quiver before holding out her scarf, though as she reached for it Daisuke’s eyes caught the ring of purple around her neck. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her in to the light.

“What happened?!” he exclaimed. Hikari’s eyes bulged and she quickly pulled herself free, her hands flying to her neck.

“I – It’s nothing-”

“Do you have to be so stubborn?” Tailmon hissed before turning to Daisuke. “The Kaiser did this to her.”

“Tailmon!”

“The Kaiser?” Daisuke asked. Hikari snatched the scarf from his fingers.

“It’s nothing,” she repeated, tying it around her neck as she turned sharply on her heel and stalked away. Tailmon bounded after her, and Daisuke blinked – trying to figure out how they’d gone from laughing to fighting in the blink of an eye – before realising he was being left behind, and he quickly scrambled after them with Veemon hot on his heels.

“Why do you keep defending him?” Tailmon demanded. Hikari remained silent, her eyes fixed pointedly on the path ahead.

“It’s not ‘nothing’ if the guy tried to kill you,” Daisuke added, and Tailmon nodded in firm agreement. Now that he’d seen it he wondered how he hadn’t seen it earlier; the bruising bled around the edges of the scarf, spreading almost fully around her neck. “You think Taichi’ll call this nothing?” Hikari whirled to face him, but instead of anger her eyes were wide with fear.

“Don’t tell him,” she pleaded. She reached for his hands, clutching them tightly. “Please, Daisuke, don’t tell him.”

“Why not?” Her hands were so soft and small in his, which were big and coarse. Her eyes burned through him, wild and glassy and filled with a silent plea. At last she took a deep breath and stood back, and in the blink of an eye the fear was gone, leaving her calm and collected behind a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“Because he’ll worry,” she said, as if that was enough.

“Then come home and stop him from worrying,” said Daisuke. “Be there when he gets back in to town!”

“I can’t,” she said firmly. She turned away, gripping her bow tightly as she began walking away. Daisuke grit his teeth and followed, clambering over a thick root.

“But you can! You can sleep at my place – you’ll take my bed, and I’ll take the sofa – and then we’ll go meet him when he gets back!” The sofa was old, lumpy and had acquired a particularly musty smell over the years, but Daisuke would take it in a heartbeat for her. “C’mon, Hikari-”

“Daisuke, drop it.” She glared at him over her shoulder and he froze. For a brief second Hikari had been replaced by a furious Taichi – the resemblance was uncanny – and then her face softened. “Please…” She waited for a moment but Daisuke’s voice had deserted him, and in the silence that followed she turned away and walked on. Veemon quickly scrambled after her, and she scooped him up with a strained laugh as she placed him on her shoulders. Tailmon sat down by Daisuke’s feet, staring after her partner and shaking her head before blinking her large blue eyes up at him.

“We shouldn’t fall too far behind,” she said. Daisuke swallowed and nodded, hoisting the pack higher before following.

“Don’t you think she should go home?” he asked quietly. Up ahead Veemon was pointing to colourful fruits in the canopy overhead. Tailmon shrugged and sighed.

“What can I say?” she asked. “Hikari’s my partner. I never thought I’d find her, and then when I did I never wanted her to leave.” Her tail twitched and she leapt over a large hole in the dirt. Daisuke skirted it carefully.

“I guess you got your wish, huh?”

“I didn’t want it like this,” she said quietly. “I wanted us all to be together, and Hikari did too.”

“But I don’t get it. If Hikari and Taichi love each other so much, why did Taichi leave her behind?”

“I don’t think they had a choice.” She paused, wringing her paws together and glancing ahead to where Hikari was throwing Veemon high in to the trees towards the large, plum-like fruits that dangled overhead. Tailmon slowed down and Daisuke slowed down with her. “When they defeated Apocalymon, the Digital World was so damaged that it needed time to reformat. The Chosen Children were only called because the Digital World needed their help, and once they’d defeated the darkness they had to go home. The gate to the human world was only open for a little while, and we didn’t make it in time.” Daisuke frowned.

“But why didn’t she just follow them through?” he asked.

“It wasn’t like that back then,” she answered. “The Digital Gate only opened when it was needed. You seem to be able to come and go as you please, but Hikari never found a way home.”

“How old was she,” he asked, “when… when she was left behind?”

“Eight, I think.”

“Eight?!” Tailmon hushed him with a glare and he quickly swallowed his surprise, glancing ahead to Hikari. She was some distance away now, and he watched as she finally threw Veemon high enough for him to grab a fruit from the canopy before landing heavily in her arms with a victorious cheer. He clambered on to Hikari’s shoulder to wave the fruit at Daisuke, and Daisuke forced a smile back at him. Veemon tore off a chunk before sliding out of view again, and Daisuke let the smile fall. “How old is she now?” Tailmon shrugged.

“We don’t know. Humans have a weird way of keeping track of that kind of stuff,” she answered. “It’s been six or seven cycles since she got left behind.”

“How long is a cycle?”

“Three hundred and sixty-four point two five days,” she answered. Daisuke frowned.

“Point two five?” She shrugged.

“Don’t ask me, it’s based on your world,” she sniffed. “Besides, that doesn’t mean much. Time can move differently here.”

“But Hikari’s been here that long,” he murmured. “However long it’s been on Earth, it’s felt like seven years for her.” The realisation made him feel cold. He didn’t remember much about being eight years old, but he remembered the time his dad left him alone in the checkout line at the grocery store because he’d forgotten to get milk, and in the five minutes he’d been gone Daisuke had been convinced that his whole world was ending.

“She’s strong,” Tailmon said softly, and Daisuke didn’t miss the note of pride that rang through her voice. “At first I was so scared, you humans are so fragile, but not her. She’s always been so brave. A little too brave, sometimes…” She trailed off with a troubled frown. Daisuke adjusted his grip on the pack and ducked under a vine as thick as his arm. They were thicker here, and packed closer together; up ahead, Hikari and Veemon were tugging at a thick network of vines that had blocked the path.

“Do you think she wants to go home?” he asked. Tailmon sighed.

“I’m not sure.” She sounded hesitant, and her eyes were fixed on Hikari’s back. “There’s something she’s not telling me… Then again, there’s always something she’s not telling me.” Hikari and Veemon tore the last of the vines down, and Hikari turned back to them.

“Come on!” she called. “We’re almost there!” As Hikari turned her attention back to the path ahead, Tailmon fixed Daisuke with a hard stare.

“You do not tell her that we were talking about her,” she hissed. Daisuke’s voice died in his throat at the sudden harshness in her voice, and he nodded mutely. Tailmon bounded away, brushing her tail against the back of Hikari’s legs as she rejoined her partner. Veemon meanwhile had been waiting for Daisuke atop the fallen vines, and as soon as Daisuke was in reach Veemon clambered up his arm and settled in to ride on Daisuke’s shoulders, sitting on top of the pack. Daisuke groaned at the extra weight but he didn’t complain, especially when Veemon leant forwards and rested his chin on Daisuke’s shoulder. It was oddly reassuring.

“Hikari was tellin’ me that she’s real sorry she got so mad at you,” he said sadly. “Why do girls do that?” Daisuke blinked, peering at his partner from the corner of his eye.

“Do what?”

“Get mad at you and then be sorry for it?” Veemon’s eyes were so large and innocent that Daisuke couldn’t help the laugh that rose in his throat.

“If I could answer that question, I could write a book.”

“You mean you can’t write?”

“That’s not what I meant.”


“I think the coast’s clear.”

Koushiro’s voice echoed round the cave, but Miyako barely heard him. That monster, Ikkakumon, had seemed so huge as it had towered above them. She could still see the sun gleaming off his fierce tusks, could still feel the heat of the explosion, could still smell smoke and singed hair. She buried her face in to her knees and wrapped her arms tightly around herself, clenching her eyes shut.

“Miyako?” Hawkmon asked. His voice was quiet and unsure. “Are you quite all right?” Miyako wished she could say yes – wished that she was brave and strong enough not to be afraid – but then she saw Daisuke falling all over again and she shook her head.

“Miyako.” She sniffled and lifted her head. Koushiro was standing by the mouth of the cave. Miyako sniffed again.

“Can’t we just stay here?”

“We should find Daisuke and make sure he’s okay,” said Iori. Sometimes Miyako hated how logical he was. Of course they had to find Daisuke, but finding Daisuke would mean going outside, and outside there was Ikkakumon and all other sorts of monsters – all bigger and stronger than them. Her insides turned to jelly and she buried her face in her knees again.

“But I don’t wanna fight!”

The cry echoed off the walls until all she could hear was her own terrified voice. She bit her lip, tasting blood as sobs that were half fury and half fear stole their way from her lungs and threw themselves at the wall before coming back full force.

Ikkakumon was out there, waiting for them with his rocket-horn and bloody claws. And if it wasn’t him, it was the RedVegiemon or Snimon or Drimogemon – there were too many; Miyako was already losing count. And when it wasn’t the digimon, it was the Kaiser, with his stupid laugh and his ridiculous cape-

A hand on her shoulder made her jump, and she blinked at Koushiro through her tears. He was kneeling next to her, but the sympathetic smile on his face only made her feel worse.

“I can’t do this,” she whispered. She swallowed past the lump in her throat and shivered. “I’m scared.” To her surprise, Koushiro smiled a little.

“We all were.” Miyako blinked; she opened her mouth but her words refused to come out, and Koushiro rocked back on to his heels. “At one point or another, we were… well, terrified. Even Taichi.” Miyako tried to imagine the brash upperclassman as a quivering wreck and she scowled. He didn’t seem the type to curl up and cry.

“You’re lying,” she grumbled, “to make me feel better.” Koushiro chuckled a little.

“I wish I was,” he said. “Jou was scared of a lot of things, especially at the start. And Taichi and Yamato, they’d get scared too, but they were too scared to show it. Ended up punching each other more often than not.” Miyako let out a surprised giggle and Koushiro’s smile widened. “And Mimi – oh, wait until you meet Mimi. She was just like you. She didn’t want to fight either, and she wanted to go home… but she did it. She fought for the Digital World, and for us.”

He paused, his mouth hanging open as though he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He pulled his hand away to loosen his tie and offered her a reassuring smile.

“The thing is, it’s not so scary when you don’t have to face it alone,” he said at last. “Digimon don’t just fight; they’re some of the very best friends you’ll ever make. And the more you do together, the stronger your bond will become. It’s a friendship you’ll carry with you for life.” His reassuring smile gave way to a certain fondness that made Miyako wonder if he was thinking of Tentomon. Over his shoulder, Miyako saw Hawkmon ruffle his feathers awkwardly, staring down at his talons. In the silence he slowly lifted his large eyes until they met Miyako’s.

Miyako had never really had friends. She was too loud and bossy for the other kids in her class, who quickly learned to keep their distance. It was hardly her fault; as the youngest of a boisterous family, she’d always had to fight for attention. She’d never been deemed ‘cool’ enough to hang out with her siblings, and had consequently never learned what ‘cool’ was, though she knew enough to know she didn’t have it. The other girls in her class weren’t in to computers and video games like she was (hobbies she’d inherited via second-hand machines from her brother Mantarou, who seemed to tolerate her the most). She’d tried hanging out at the mall like her sisters, but she’d never seen the appeal. She supposed it was different when you had friends.

Even her friendship with Iori was tenuous at best. They’d become friends via chance encounter; they’d both sat at the same abandoned bench one lunch time, and Miyako – unable to bear silence – had struck up an incessant conversation with him until he’d been forced to talk back. But then he was just as odd as she was, albeit in a quieter way. He was a friend in that they would go places and do things together, but he was hardly someone she would run to with her problems.

But there was something in Hawkmon’s eyes that made her feel like she might just run to him. They’d spent less than a week together, and already she’d confided more in him than in anyone else. She hadn’t thought twice about it – she’d just known that everything she’d shared with him would be safe; that he would protect her secrets just as fiercely as he would protect her.

Suddenly she was scrambling forwards, having cast Koushiro aside behind her, and she buried her tear-stained face in to Hawkmon’s feathers. She clutched the little bird close, not quite sure how to tell him what she was feeling. Hawkmon didn’t need words; he simply wrapped his small wings tightly around her and suddenly Miyako could feel everything they couldn’t say.

When they left the cave, Iori and Koushiro took the lead with Armadimon following close behind them. Miyako brought up the rear, watching the two boys conversing in hushed tones and wondering if Iori was receiving a similar pep-talk (Iori looked more serious than usual, focusing intently on Koushiro and hanging off his every word). And so she hung back, glancing every now and then to Hawkmon who would catch her eye and offer her a quiet smile.

They clambered back up the mudslide and picked their way back through the forest. Miyako hadn’t realised just how far they’d run, and the walk back seemed to take two if not three times as long. The humidity beneath the canopy clung to her like a blanket, and trails of sweat and mud trickled down her neck and beneath her collar. She crinkled her nose; she didn’t care what the bathroom rota said, she would be having a long, hot bath when she got home.

“I think I see him,” Koushiro murmured. He was squinting down at his digivice, holding the screen so close to his nose that he was almost cross-eyed.

“What is it?” Miyako asked. Koushiro frowned.

“I’m not sure… I can’t tell if that’s one signal or two.” Miayko looked at her D-3, pushing her glasses higher up her nose for a better look. It was hard to tell – the signal was squeezed into the upper corner of the small screen – but it definitely looked like two.

“One’s blue, so that’s Daisuke, right?” she asked, holding out her D-3 to Koushiro. The screen on the D-3 was a fraction bigger than that of the digivices, and Koushiro gave her a grateful smile as he examined it.

“It looks like the other signal is from the older digivice model,” Iori suggested, glancing up from his own D-3. “It doesn’t appear to have a colour.”

“Which means it’s probably not the Kaiser,” Koushiro said, the relief evident in his voice. “It could be Jou; we aren’t far from his camp.”

“Maybe he heard the commotion and he came to investigate,” Miyako offered. Koushiro grimaced and slipped his digivice back in to his pocket.

“Maybe,” he said quietly. Then, louder: “Whoever it is, we should regroup with them and with Daisuke. Ikkakumon could still be in the area, so we should probably head home once we’re all-”

They broke through the treeline to find Ikkakumon waiting for them. He gave a deafening bellow and Miyako felt her blood turn to ice as he lowered his horn towards them.

“Digimental up!” Iori cried. Koushiro grabbed Miyako’s wrist and pulled her back towards the trees as Armadimon raced the oncoming missile. Digmon emerged just in time and his armoured shell took the brunt of the hit. Miyako felt the heat wash over her as Digmon laughed and turned.

“That tickles!” His drills let out a shrill whine as he plunged them in to the earth, sending a jagged fissure racing towards Ikkakumon.

“Miyako,”said Hawkmon. He was standing before her, his wings tucked close in to his body and his eyes gleaming with determination. “We should help them.” She swallowed thickly and closed her eyes, taking several deep breaths. Her D-3 grew warm beneath her fingers, chasing the ice from her veins, and she tightened her fingers around it until it felt like her whole body was ablaze. She opened her eyes, meeting Hawkmon’s gaze and giving him a determined nod.

“Digimental up!”

Holsmon was quick to join the fray, twisting nimbly around Digmon and soaring high in to the air infront of Ikkakumon where he spread his wings wide.

“Tempest Wing!” He twisted in to a tight spiral whipped the wind around him in to a frenzy. A tornado burst forth, striking Ikkakumon in the chest and sending him staggering back. By the time he had recovered, Holsmon had already fixed him with a well-aimed Mach Impulse attack that splashed against Ikkakumon’s forehead. The digimon roared furiously, aiming is horn at Holsmon. Miyako called for Holsmon to be careful as Digmon fractured the earth at Ikkakumon’s feet with a large Gold Rush attack. The Harpoon Torpedo was a misfire, and Holsmon twisted lazily around the attack before swooping closer with another Mach Impulse.

“The ring!” Koushiro cried. “Attack the Dark Ring – Iori, watch out!” Ikkakumon staggered blindly, rising up on his hindquarters to bat at Holsmon, trying to swipe him from the air. As a heavy paw came down dangerously close to Iori, Koushiro rushed to his side. Iori had jumped back from the attack, but judging by the way Koushiro dragged him several steps further away, Iori had not jumped back far enough.

Miyako was watching the pair so intently that she didn’t notice that Holsmon had been struck from the air until he slid across the ground, coming to a stop perilously close to the cliff edge. Ikkakumon celebrated his victory with a belching roar and he slammed his front paws back on to the ground.

“Holsmon – NO!” Miyako stumbled forwards as the tears began to swell, only to stop dead in her tracks as Ikkakumon turned sharply to face her. The sunlight was gleaming off his black horn as he dropped on to his haunches again, aiming the tip of the rocket straight at her.

“Miyako look out!”

Koushiro’s voice was distant as Ikkakumon’s horn erupted in fire and smoke. Miyako stopped breathing, her heart stopped beating. The torpedo swam gracefully through the air towards her like a polished-basalt dart, crawling through the air. Why was Holsmon moving so slowly? The rocket had already travelled several feet before Holsmon had even registered the danger. And it was drawing closer, getting faster, and suddenly Miyako’s starving lungs took a deep, greedy gulp of air-

Something slammed in to her waist and the world span around her. It wrapped itself around her, and together they fell in a tangle of limbs as they rolled away from the deafening explosion. The ground was still shuddering as Miyako came to a stop several feet away, her head spinning and her stomach churning and her ears ringing as she found her face buried in thick, brown fur. No, not fur; it was hair, she realised, as the owner pushed herself further back, staring at Miyako with large rubicund eyes.

“Are you okay?” she asked, quickly scrambling backwards to give Miyako some room. Miyako sat up slowly, her breath coming in short gasps. The girl was watching her closely, large eyes studying Miyako from head to toe until finally Miyako managed to dislodge her voice from where it had stuck behind the lump in her throat.

“F-fine,” she stammered. It seemed good enough for her saviour who glanced over her shoulder before jumping lightly to her feet and pulling Miyako up with her.

“Hikari!” Two voices cried out in unison; Hikari ignored Koushiro and turned to Daisuke as he emerged from the trees. Fladramon had joined the fray, lending his fiery fists to the assault, while an oversized housecat darted nimbly around Daisuke’s legs, gathering scattered arrows and stuffing them back in to a hastily-discarded quiver. Hikari took off towards the cat who unhooked a strung bow from around its chest and threw it towards Hikari, who snatched it from the air. In a single fluid motion she dropped to her knee and snatched several arrows from the quiver to stab them in to the dirt. She planted one in the bow, pulling it back and following the fight with the tip of the arrow, though she quickly let it drop again.

“It’s no use! I can’t get a clear shot on the ring, and I risk hurting Ikkakumon if I miss.”

Miyako stared back at the digimon, watching as Digmon worried the ground at his feet while Fladramon pummelled his legs and Holsmon swooped and pecked at him from above. Ikkakumon fixed his eyes on Holsmon, but every time he tried to rise up to attack the others kept his paws firmly grounded.

“Wait!” Miyako cried, sprinting towards Daisuke and Hikari. Daisuke’s mouth opened in anticipation of what was sure to be some scathing remark, but Miyako quickly cut over him. “We have to call off Digmon and Fladramon. If it’s just Holsmon, then Ikkakumon will lift himself up to attack like he did before. That’ll give you a clear shot at the Dark Ring.” Hikari nodded wordlessly, staring back at the fight.

“And you can take it out, right?” Daisuke asked eagerly. HIkari shook her head, drawing the arrow back again and tucking her fingers against the corner of her mouth.

“No,” she answered, “but I should be able to fracture it so the others can destroy it.” Daisuke nodded and ran towards the fight. Hikari’s eyes widened. “Daisuke, be careful!”

“Fladramon! Hey, over here!”

As Daisuke recited the plan, Miyako watched Hikari with fascination. Crouched on one knee, Hikari held the bow taught, staring down the arrow’s shaft with breaths so small that at first Miyako wasn’t sure if she was moving at all. As she held her post, ready to strike at a moment’s notice, her shoulders shivered and her fingers twitched around the string. The muscles in her back quivered, and a small tremor ran down her extended arm as a bead of sweat rolled down the back of her neck.

The sudden twang of the bow caused Miyako to yelp in surprise. She’d been so focused on Hikari that she hadn’t noticed Daisuke beckon Fladramon and Digmon away from the fight. Ikkakumon had risen up on to his hind legs, and Hikari’s arrow flew true to its target. With a CRACK the ring began to break, forming a million hairline fractures that spread over the polished surface like electricity. They watched with baited breath as Digmon dove in, setting his menacing drills to the task, while Fladramon sent several Flaming Fists at Ikkakumon’s belly. The fire splashed across the fur, and as Ikkakumon clipped Holsmon’s wing he began to crash back down to the floor.

Miyako clutched her hands together desperately as Digmon was lost behind Ikkakumon’s mammoth paws. Then, after a moment of silence, the Dark Ring shattered, and Ikkakumon was surrounded in a bright light. He shrank down to a fraction of his original size before flopping to the ground, unmoving.

Chapter Text

 


CREEPING SHADOWS


“Gomamon!”

Koushiro watched Hikari as she rushed forwards, dropping to her knees as she scooped Gomamon gently in her arms. Tailmon quickly bounded to her side, closely followed by Daisuke and Miyako. Iori was looking to Koushiro, an unspoken question in his eyes, and Koushiro nodded. They started forwards then, regrouping with Armadimon and Hawkmon. Veemon had clambered up Hikari’s back and was clinging to her shoulder to peer down at Gomamon (while Tailmon watched on, her tail twitching silently).

“Is he gonna be okay?” Veemon asked quietly. Hikari cradled him carefully in the crook of her elbow and smoothed the fur around his closed eyes.

“I think he’s going to be fine,” she answered softly. She looked up then, and when she caught Koushiro’s eye she gave him a bright smile before carefully standing, keeping Gomamon close to her chest.

“You’re pretty good with your bow,” Koushiro offered awkwardly. Hikari smiled.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “Angewomon taught me.”

“Could’ve taught her a lot more if it wasn’t for the Kaiser and his Dark Towers,” Tailmon grumbled under her breath, her sharp eyes trained on Veemon has he leapt from Hikari’s shoulders to Daisuke’s arms.

“I’m glad we found you,” Koushiro continued. “Taichi would have been here, but he and your parents had to go out of town for a while-”

“I said she could stay at my place until they get back!” Daisuke said with a broad grin. Hikari lowered her eyes to Gomamon and Koushiro felt a lump rise in his throat.

“Are you going to come back with us?” he asked. Hikari seemed to consider his question before shaking her head.

“I’m needed here,” she answered. Her voice was firm and strong, and when she lifted her gaze again her eyes were sharp and determined. “There are still captured digimon out there that need our help. And Daisuke said that Jou has a camp nearby, so we can make sure that Gomamon gets back to him safely.”

“Why don’t you stay?” Koushiro suggested. Hikari’s brow furrowed and he felt his ears burning. “With Jou, at his camp. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind an extra pair of hands.” And we’ll be able to find you. The words went unsaid, but something in Hikari’s smile told him that she heard them nonetheless.

Daisuke led them back to the gate, keeping Hikari entertained with jokes and elaborate soccer stories about himself and Taichi (only half of which Koushiro believed to be true). It seemed that Daisuke was determined to get HIkari back through the gate with them, but he kept approaching the matter with a sort of bullheaded-ness that only seemed to make Hikari’s resolve to stay stronger. It reminded Koushiro of Taichi; of how difficult it could be to push him towards a decision. The more you pushed Taichi, the more Taichi would push back, digging his heels in even when he knew he was wrong.

As the gate finally came in to view Gomamon gave a low groan. Hikari paused and adjusted her grip, allowing him to wriggle in her arms as he slowly peeled his eyes open with a moan.

“Hey, Gomamon,” Hikari greeted softly. “How are you feeling?” she asked. Gomamon grimaced and rubbed at his head.

“Like I’ve been run over by a Tankmon,” he grumbled. He froze, his eyes wide, and he glanced up to Hikari and then to Koushiro, and then to Tailmon before his face lit up in a grin. “Oh, hey guys! When did you get here? Have you seen Jou around?”

“He’s not far from here. Right, Koushiro?” Hikari lifted her gaze and Koushiro nodded before trying to describe what he could remember about Jou’s last-known location. At the mention of the stone temples among the dense forest, Tailmon’s ears twitched.

“I think I know where you mean,” she said with a nod. Gomamon grinned.

“Don’t you worry, we’ll find him!” he proclaimed. “I can always find Jou.”

They shared a brief goodbye then, during which Miyako threw herself at Hikari in a tight hug. Hikari stiffened, her eyes wide, and Gomamon gave an objectionable squeak as he was crushed between them. Miyako was quick to pull away then, leaping back with a nervous flush.

“Sorry – I didn’t – I mean – I just wanted to thank you. For saving my life.” Hikari quickly offered her a reassuring smile.

“I’m glad we made it in time to help.” Koushiro nodded in agreement; he didn’t want to think of what would have happened if Hikari hadn’t been able to pull Miyako out of harm’s way.

Gomamon was quickly introduced to the newest members of the team, and then it was time for them to leave. Koushiro spared one last glance towards Hikari, wondering if he should try and persuade her again, but something about the apprehensive way she eyed the television set and how tightly she clung to Gomamon made him push the thought aside. He had no right to tell her what to do; he’d known her since before the Digital World, yes, but only as Taichi’s sister and only really in passing. She gave him a small smile and he gave her a nod before turning towards the others and motioning for someone to open the gate.

“Actually, Koushiro,” Hikari began. He turned back to see her setting Gomamon carefully on the ground. “Could you give this to my brother for me?” She straightened and reached beneath her tunic, withdrawing a battered silver whistle attached to a threadbare pink ribbon. She looped it over her head and took a deep breath before placing it in Koushiro’s hand with a smile. “Maybe the next time he comes, I’ll hear it.” He curled his fingers around it with a firm nod.

“Of course.”

Iori, being the closest, held out his D-3 to open the gate and the Digital World disappeared in a flash of light.


The skeletal tail whipped against the plated steel walls, knocking dust and debris from the panels of the domed ceiling above. SkullGreymon released a deafening roar before launching a devastating missile from the tip of its hunched spine. It surged forwards, exploding against the wall in a wash of heat and fire, destroying two of the panels and leaving behind a hole that was almost six feet wide.

Ken growled as his fingers flew across the transparent keys and consoles that made up his command centre. He’d lost track of the days wasted on this pathetic creature. SkullGreymon was powerful, that much was true, but the Adult digimon had too much power to be controlled by a simple Dark Ring. He became something more akin to a toddler having a tantrum, and it might have been entertaining to watch the monster exhaust itself to the point of devolution had it not been so utterly frustrating. Even exposure to the Dark Towers had not tempered its headstrong nature. There was no rebellion here – no act of conscious defiance – just pure unbridled power mixed with fiery rage. The creature simply had more strength than sense, but finding the solution to harnessing that power was proving harder than it should have been.

Luckily a little forethought had left Ken well-prepared for the challenge. The cell was re-enforced on all sides with three further layers of plated steel that even a beast like SkullGreymon would be hard-pressed to rip through before burning up all its energy. Ken watched as it leapt towards the hole, clawing at the melted steel in a violent fury before falling back to the ground with a heavy thud that rumbled the whole base. The digimon’s head lolled back with a low keen before he swayed and then collapsed on to his side.

“Master?”

Wormmon. The creature’s voice infuriated him like no other; weak and pathetic and carrying an irritating warble that set Ken’s teeth on edge. A pathetic excuse for a partner. “Perhaps you should rest. He’s growing tired, and soon he won’t be any use to you at all-”

“When I want your opinion, I will ask for it,” Ken spat. He heard Wormmon’s claws snicker across the floor and he smirked. “But I wouldn’t hold your breath.” SkullGreymon was bathed in light, returning to his child form. The Agumon folded in on itself, burying its snout beneath an oversized paw as it curled in to a tight, trembling ball.

“I’m sorry, master,” Wormmon warbled. Ken ground his teeth. “I was just wondering if Agumon was the right candidate for your experiments. He’s far stronger than a normal Agumon, and I-”

“Did you not wonder that perhaps that’s the exact reason why he’s perfect? How dare you question my decisions?” He span sharply on his heel, his hand reaching for his whip as Wormmon scurried backwards. Ken smirked. “But, oh, did you want to take his place?” Wormmon ducked his head, tapping his pincers together nervously.

“Well, I am your p-” The crack of the whip left Ken’s ears ringing as he sneered.

“Did you really think that you would be a worthy candidate? You’re a pitiful excuse for a digimon; inadequate and disappointing.” Wormmon quickly hurried from the room, muttering under his breath as he left. Ken ignored him; the day that worm had anything useful to say would be the day Ken would end his conquest and join the pathetic humans that had invaded his server. His neck twinged and he forced himself to loosen his jaw, rolling his head to work the lancing pain from the base of his skull before turning sharply towards a nearby console.

He created a Dark Ring and snatched it from the air, turning it over in his hands with a sneer as he let his gaze drift towards Agumon. Perhaps more rings, he wondered absently, and for a moment he entertained the idea of dressing the creature in matching collar and cuffs. His brow furrowed at the thought; what if each ring tried to convey its own set of instructions? Or what if there was a delay? He would have to ensure that the signals to each of the rings were entirely synchronous, and any interference risked knocking them out of balance. No, it needed to be a single entity in order to bring the creature to heel.

But perhaps he wasn’t so far from the answer. He stared down at the Dark Ring, feeling the pieces of the puzzle fall in to place, and in a blissful moment of calm it occurred to him that perhaps the best way to increase his hold over the stronger digimon was to increase the surface area of the ring. A greater surface area would allow him to increase the flow of data in to the creature until his orders would be too powerful to ignore. A thicker band would make the ring too obvious, and too easy a target.

A spiral, on the other hand…

With a victorious smirk, Ken bend low over his consoles and set to work.


“She said she couldn’t come home?”

They were sat in the corner of a small coffee shop not ten minutes from the school. Koushiro was steeping his tea absently and Sora’s hot chocolate had long since gone cold as they continued their conversation in hushed tones. Koushiro pressed his lips together.

“It seemed like she didn’t even want to come home, just like Jou,” he answered. His head dropped in to his hands with a resigned sigh. “Taichi will kill me if he finds out I left her there. I should have tried harder to convince her to come back with us.”

Sora chewed her lip thoughtfully and fiddled with the charm on her phone. They hadn’t told Taichi; when Koushiro had suggested that perhaps it was best not to tell him until he was back in Odaiba, Sora had wholeheartedly agreed. It would do nothing but frustrate him, being trapped in Odawara without access to a Digital Gate or a D-3 and with no way of convincing his parents to return home without mentioning the Digital World.

“She’s a big girl now,” Sora said quietly, thinking about everything Koushiro had told her about their encounter. It had been strange, trying to match Koushiro’s descriptions of her to the little girl that Sora remembered. Hikari had always been brave (and more than a little stubborn), but diving headfirst in to danger had always been more Taichi’s approach.

(But then, hadn’t she given herself up to Myotismon? She hadn’t even had a partner then, or really known just how dangerous digimon could be. Perhaps the only reason she’d never been the first to face danger was because someone else had always beaten her to it.)

“She’s lasted this long,” she continued, and she was grateful when Koushiro didn’t try and pull her up on her silence. She stirred her drink again with a firm nod. “I’m sure she can last a little longer.” The words seemed to carry less conviction when Taichi wasn’t there, and she wasn’t sure how much longer she could go on saying them before they became utterly empty. Daisuke had mentioned that the Kaiser had already made one attempt on Hikari’s life (though he realised too late that he’d let it slip and refused to say anything further on the matter – something about a promise to Hikari), and Sora wasn’t too sure he had any reason not to take a second go at it.

“I hope she finds Jou and sticks close to him,” Koushiro muttered. “Maybe Taichi will be less angry with me if I can at least tell him I know how to find her when he gets back.”

“Let me handle Taichi,” she said with a reassuring smile. She reached for her drink again, but the mug had gone cold and she pushed it aside. “How are your programs coming along?” Koushiro frowned.

“Not as well as I’d hoped. I’m struggling to get any concrete progress on any kind of map. I can scan small sections, but it won’t help me find the others unless I know where to look in the first place. Once I get beyond a certain radius the program just crashes. It feels…” He trailed off, a strange expression falling over his face. Sora tilted her head.

“It feels…” she nudged. Koushiro sighed.

“The only way I can describe it is that it feels like the Digital World is fighting against me. Like there’s something out there that doesn’t want me to be able to track everyone down, and it’s running interference.” He leant back in his chair, his expression dark, and Sora chewed the inside of her cheek. The Digital World did seem to have a mind of its own, but after choosing the Children to help it why would it try to hinder them now?

“What about those little computers – the D-Terminals?” she asked, hoping the topic would lighten the mood a little. It didn’t.

“I just can’t get them figured out,” he groaned. “Miyako let me borrow hers for a few days to examine it, but I couldn’t really find much that we didn’t already know. There’s the address book and a messaging system – Miyako tested it with Iori and it works like e-mails, but via an incredibly secure transmission. They store the Digimentals, too, but… I just feel like they could do so much more. Like there’s something we’re missing.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Sora said firmly. “The gate’s only been open again for a couple of weeks, and look at how much we’ve already accomplished. We’ve found Jou and Hikari, and we know where Yamato is. We just need to find Takeru, and then when Taichi’s back in town we can work on some sort of rescue plan.” It sounded so simple, but Koushiro’s frown only deepened. He frowned a lot these days. “What is it?”

“There are eight crests,” he said, “but so far we’ve only found three of these digimentals. Their traits seem to line up with ours, so where are the others? And who will inherit them? Should we be looking for more Chosen, or at least for the other Digimentals? There are just so many unknowns that it seems impossible to form any kind of strategy-”

“We focus on what we can control,” Sora pressed. Koushiro’s dark eyes lifted towards her and she smiled. “Didn’t you tell me that once?”

He had. Weeks after they had returned from the Digital World, when all of Koushiro’s efforts had fallen flat, when Taichi had withdrawn and Sora had begun to spiral… Koushiro had come to her then. We focus on what we can control, he’d said, pulling her out of a whirlpool of ‘what if’s and ‘maybe’s and other nightmares that left her waking in a cold sweat. The corner of Koushiro’s lips twitched in to a shadow of a smile.

You focus on what we can control,” he said. Sora arched an eyebrow. “I need answers, Sora. Why is the gate open now? What happened to the others while we were away? What happened to the Digital World? How did the Kaiser get there, and who is he? The Digimentals, the new Chosen, the towers and rings…” He sighed and rubbed at his temples. “I don’t have half the information that I need-”

“But you have more than you did last time,” she countered. “Be kind to yourself, Koushiro. You can’t know everything.” He fixed her with a look which suggested otherwise, and she laughed. “We’ll get through this together, just like we always have. When’s the next time we can go back?”

“The lab is in use for an exam after school tomorrow, so it won’t be until Thursday,” Koushiro answered.

“Then we’ll go back on Thursday, and we’ll see if we can find some of the answers you need. Maybe we’ll even have some good news by the time Taichi gets back.” Koushiro’s face lit up suddenly and he reached in to the pocket of his blazer.

“You’ll probably see Taichi before I do… ah, here it is. Can you give this to him?” The whistle glinted as it passed from his hand to hers, and Sora found herself staring at it. Suddenly she was eleven again, stuck inside the belly of Whamon and listening to the whistle’s mighty roar as Hikari blew on it until she was red in the face. She curled her fingers around it tightly.

“Of course.”


The camp seemed so much lonelier than before, Jou mused as he tied the last knot around the splint. The Betamon thanked him and hobbled away, and Jou straightened and stretched, working the kinks from his spine. Over the last few days, Takeru’s company had been a refreshing change from the digimon, and Jou had almost regretted not returning to the human world with Koushiro and the others. He contented himself with the knowledge that if he had returned, Takeru most likely would have been left to continue roaming the digital wilderness.

The only downside to the boy’s presence was that his close relationship with Patamon made Jou miss Gomamon even more than usual. It had been easy to ignore when the days blurred together and he could forget, even if only for a while. The friendship that had once been so alien to Jou now left an ache in his chest with its absence, and watching Takeru and Patamon only made it stronger. He’d almost been relieved when they’d left that morning, saying that had something to take care of and would be back in a few days’ time.

“Jou!” The frantic voice pulled him from his thoughts, and he span around to see a Floramon rushing towards him. Her vines were wild and her pink-tinted petals were dishevelled, as though she had sprinted through hell to find him. When she came to a stop, her leaf-green eyes were wide.

“Floramon, what is it?”

“Someone’s coming!” she gasped. “I was out gathering water and – they said they were looking for you – a human and two digimon – they know where we are – we have to hide!”

For a moment Jou forgot how to breathe. It wouldn’t be Takeru; Floramon knew him well now, and wouldn’t be alarmed by his return. It couldn’t be one of the others; it would be strange of them to travel by themselves. Jou’s mind jumped to the Kaiser and he gulped in a lungful of air, digging his fingers in to his palms and forcing himself to remain calm.

“Floramon, get everyone in to the main hut. Find the strongest fighters and have them form a ring around the outside of camp. We may need them to defend us if we’re under attack. Then find Gabumon and Tentomon and send them to me.” What he would do next, Jou wasn’t sure; most of his patients were too exhausted to move quickly without devolving, a feat that would take months of new experiences to counteract. And if he moved, how would Takeru find him again? Or Biyomon or Palmon, who had struck north in search of Hikari? Or the others, if they managed to come back? He wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers and pushed his too-small glasses higher up the bridge of his nose. Later was later; he had to act now.

He was ushering a group of babies in to the main hut when Tentomon and Gabumon found him. He quickly explained the situation before asking for their help in calming the digimon inside the hut.

“We’re strong enough to fight,” said Gabumon. “Why not put us outside to defend with the others?”

“We’d be more effective out there,” Tentomon agreed. Jou hesitated. A nervous bead of sweat rolled down his temple. If the Kaiser was coming, they would not be able to stop him. Jou couldn’t bear to see Koushiro try to hide his distress at the thought of Tentomon being imprisoned. As for Yamato, Jou imagined it would just make his day to find Gabumon locked up beside him.

“I need you inside as a last line of defence.” The lie came easily. Too easily, and he wondered whether they would believe him. “If the Kaiser makes it in to the camp, we’ll need our strongest fighters here.” Gabumon fixed Jou with a strange look but didn’t question the order, and instead led Tentomon off to the nearby tents and huts to help gather everyone together.

By the time everyone had packed themselves in to the central hut, a wild panic had settled over the camp. Gabumon and Tentomon secured the doors and windows while Jou did what he could to silence the anxious crowd. As the hut fell dark, the screaming and crying slowly turned to muffled whimpers and sniffles. Jou knelt before the door, watching the light flicker around the edges of the frame, and Tentomon had to nudge him several times to remind him to breathe.

The door flew open. Panicked screams split the air and Jou’s heart wedged itself in his chest at the silhouette standing in the doorway. Tentomon was the one to call for calm as the Gazimon hurried inside, its wild eyes searching the room. Finally they landed on Jou, and Gazimon extended its rabbit-like paw to clasp his hand firmly.

“We caught them!” he announced. “Some of the Betamon set up a trap and it worked! Come on!” Jou’s body felt numb. Had they… had they really captured the Kaiser? He was just a boy, after all… Jou let Gabumon help him to his feet, and he glanced to Floramon.

“Keep everyone here,” he said. Her eyes were wide and scared but she nodded. “If you hear fighting, I want you to take everyone and run. Tell everyone to partner up so we’ll know if we lose anyone.” Floramon rubbed her vines together nervously before disappearing in to the crowd, whispering instructions. Jou turned and stepped back out in to the sunlight with Gabumon and Tentomon close behind him, and they allowed Gazimon to lead them through the huts and in to the woods.

As they left the confines of the camp Jou began to hear voices and the distant sounds of struggling, and as he drew closer the voices became more distinct.

“…so you’d better let us down right now!” a low, female voice growled. She was answered by a roar of jeers and low-level attacks.

“Please!” Another voice rose above the din, higher than the first. “We don’t want to hurt you, we just want to-” But whatever they wanted to do was lost beneath another objectionable roar. Gazimon led Jou around a thick tree and Jou finally spied the captives. They were tangled in a large rope net, hanging from the thick branch of a tree and spinning slowly. Jou caught sight of fingers and claws and a purple-tipped tale, and as the net turned a little more he saw an all-too-familiar pair of blue-green eyes blinking back at him.

“Jou!”

Gomamon’s voice stole the breath from his lungs as his heart lurched painfully in his chest. His hand flew to his digivice as he stumbled closer.

“Cut them down.” The words were small and feeble, and lost beneath the din. A white paw emerged to swipe at a nearby stick that was being jabbed at the net, silver claws gleaming. Jou cleared his throat. “Cut them down!” These words were sharper than he would have liked, and they cut clean through the noise. A moment of silence followed, and then the net began to fall. Jou’s heart leapt to his throat and he surged forwards. The crowd parted before him, and by the time he reached the fallen net Gomamon had already wormed his way out from beneath the others.

“Jou!”

Jou fell to his knees as Gomamon threw himself in to Jou’s arms. He buried his tears in Gomamon’s soft fur as Gomamon tightened his grip around Jou’s neck.

“I missed you!” The words came out in a heavy sob and he clenched his eyes shut as Gomamon sniffed loudly.

“Don’t cry, Jou,” his partner said in a voice that warbled dangerously. “Because if you cry, then I’m gonna cry. And we can’t cry when we have visitors!”

Slowly he lifted his face from Gomamon’s tear-stained fur as his eyes settled on the others. Hikari was clutching at Gabumon tightly, her face buried in his fur, while Tailmon was talking with Tentomon. Jou sniffed and dried his eyes before standing, keeping Gomamon cradled in his arms (“I can walk, y’know.”) as he glanced around the crowd of digimon who were still hovering nervously.

“It’s all right,” he said. “They’re friends.”

“You sure they’re not gonna hurt us?” Gazimon asked, eying them suspiciously. Hikari looked up, hurt by the accusation, and Jou offered the Gazimon a reassuring smile.

“I promise, they’re safe,” he answered, though Gazimon seemed unconvinced. “Could you go back to Floramon and the others and let them know everything is okay? It’s getting late, we should all start to settle down for the night.” Gazimon shot Hikari and the others one last wary glance before nodding and heading back towards the camp. Slowly the other digimon followed, and as the crowd disbursed Hikari rose to her feet.

Whether Jou was truly so pleased to see her, or whether he was still riding the wave of emotion from his reunion with Gomamon, he would never truly be able to tell. He rushed forwards and gathered her up in his arms, holding her tighter than he had any right to, and after a moment’s pause she returned the gesture.

“It’s good to see you,” she said softly as Gomamon wriggled out from between them. Jou pulled back then and cleared his throat, mumbling apologies which she easily dismissed with a shake of her head. Jou laughed and adjusted his glasses.

“Sorry, I… It’s been strange, seeing everyone again after so long. You just missed Takeru!” Hikari’s face lit up and Jou nodded. “He’s been staying with me for the last few days but he said he had some things to take care of. I’m sure he’ll be back soon, though. And the others! Have you seen them? They’re back too. Well, not all of them, I haven’t seen Mimi but I think she’s fine. At least I assume she is. I hope she is. The others haven’t mentioned-”

“Jou?” Gomamon interrupted.

“Yes?”

“You’re rambling.” Jou pressed his lips tightly together and wiped his palms on his trousers, ducking his head a little.

“Ah, sorry,” he said with a weak chuckle. Hikari giggled a little and he allowed himself to smile. “Come on, I’ll show you to the camp. Will you be staying with us?”

“If that’s okay,” Hikari said. He smiled.

“Of course! We’ve got plenty of room, although we’re a little short on food…”

“We can help with that,” Tailmon offered. Jou grimaced.

“I’d hate to ask, as you’re guests, but every little bit helps. Most of the digimon are too injured to feed themselves.” Tailmon waved a paw with a sly smile.

“Don’t worry about it. Consider it repayment for looking at Hikari-”

“Tailmon!”

“Hikari?” Jou asked. He frowned and glanced towards her. “What’s wrong?” Hikari turned away, studiously avoiding her partner’s gaze.

“Nothing-”

“Just a few scrapes that could do with someone human taking a look at them,” Tailmon pressed. Hikari pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.

“Traitor,” she mumbled. Tailmon merely shrugged and stalked ahead, her tail swishing proudly behind her.


As the sun set, the dusk that followed carried a peculiar stillness that settled heavily over the field; empty save for a gentle breeze that danced through the tall grass and kissed the trees.

It was into this emptiness that the darkness crept, seeping through a tiny crack in the sky and oozing in to the world, as curious as a digimon fresh from its egg. The darkness spread through the tall grass and burrowed into the dirt, darting from one shadow to the next. In the dappled shade of a nearby tree it seeped up the thick bark and slithered towards the branches. The sun’s last rays were fading fast, and in their absence the darkness swelled, drinking fragments of data that swam through the air.

Within minutes the floating fissure had been sealed, unable to sustain the warped gate, but it had been open long enough. The darkness spread itself thin, painting the ground with shadows as it stretched itself across the field. It had taken too long to find its way back here, and things had changed in its absence. It sucked the colour from the grass and stole the warmth from the sky, fuelling itself as it rolled towards the edge of the field.

A light. The darkness stopped. There was light here, but not the kind that the darkness needed. This light came from a boy, walking calmly through the twilight with his airborne partner. This light would not help the darkness, and so it recoiled, pulling back from the east and heading instead westward. The boy remained oblivious, his partner remained a child, and the darkness continued unchallenged in its search for the light.

Some distance away, Hikari grimaced in her sleep. She rolled on to her side and a hand emerged from beneath the blankets. Slender fingers pressed themselves in to the dirt, and a flash of light pulsed beneath the ground.

Had they been able to remember, the digimon on patrol around the perimeter of the camp would have later recounted a dome of light in the sky that flashed once before fading from existence completely. As it was, the memory faded with the night, and when the light returned the next morning it found no indication that anything could possibly be amiss.

Chapter Text


STORMS


“What’s that noise?”

“It’s raining.”

“Oh.”

The conversation lapsed in to silence. Taichi tucked a hand behind his head and leant back until he was lying along the polished bamboo slats of the engawa. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his forehead, slipping underneath the phone, and he grimaced. Despite the thundering rain on the eaves overhead, it was uncomfortably hot, and the high bushes around his aunt’s small rear garden left no entry for a breeze, leaving the sticky July air hanging stagnant. Taichi ran a sweaty hand through his hair.

“You’d like it,” he said. “Reckon it’ll turn in to a thundershower later, right around the time oba will ask me to close the storm shutters.”

“She doesn’t have them closed yet?” Sora asked. He snorted.

“I offered, but she doesn’t think it’s going to get that bad. You know she doesn’t trust the weatherman.” She had a point; the weather reports in Odawara were dubious at best, especially during typhoon season, and they were wrong more often than not.

“Silly scaremongering,” his aunt would scoff at her ancient television set whenever the news warned of an incoming storm. “And even if they are right, this house was built by your uncle’s great-great-grandfather, back when they built things to last. This house stood through Ma-on in 2004; it’ll stand through this summer shower.”

“How’s your mother doing?” Taichi pressed his lips together and rolled his head to the side to look through the sliding glass door which had been left open in the hopes of drawing in some kind of breeze. His aunt had lowered the screen that separated the tea room from the living room, but it was thin enough that Taichi could see the tremble in his mother’s shadow as she lifted a cup of tea to her lips.

“She’s better,” he murmured. “She took all her meds today.”

“That’s great!” Sora breathed. “Taichi-”

“Any sign of her?”

The line was too quiet for too long. His insides churned at what it could have meant.

“We… We haven’t been able to go to the Digital World as much as we wanted to,” Sora answered at last. “We managed a short trip on Thursday, but then the lab was booked out on Friday and we haven’t been able to get in to the school all weekend. We’re going to try again tomorrow after school, but Miyako thinks there might be some sort of after school event going on. We might not be able to get back in until Tuesday.”

A rush of water thundered along the drain and splashed against the stone step that ran under the engawa and Taichi stifled a sigh that was equal parts relief and frustration. Every time Sora called he waited with baited breath for the news he desired and dreaded more than anything in the world.

Because if they found her, then what? He was miles away in Odawara, unable to mention his sister or the Digital World for fear of sending his father in to a rage or pushing his mother back in to her despair after five gruelling days of watching her crawl out of it. And there was no chance of him sneaking away to the Digital World. Even if his model of digivice could open a gate, his aunt didn’t have a computer. The nearest one that he knew of was in the local library, and it sat in direct sight of the librarian who monitored the screen like a hawk to make sure it couldn’t be used for anything inappropriate. He gnawed the inside of his cheek.

“It’s all right,” Taichi murmured. Sora hummed softly and he knew that she knew he was lying (though he couldn’t be sure of who he was lying to). He pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. “I wish we didn’t have to go through the computer lab to go to… to get there.”

“Koushiro’s already working on it.” Taichi smiled; of course he was. “It’s difficult because he hasn’t had much time to analyse the gate. Last time we went through he stayed behind to try and gather more data for analysis.”

“What about his map?”

“It’s slow, but he is making progress. I haven’t seen him work this hard on anything since…”  There was a delicate note of hope in her voice and Taichi unclenched his jaw.

“Yeah…” he murmured. He heard his father’s voice rise within the house and he propped himself up on his elbow. His father was pacing the kitchen, one hand pressing his phone to his ear while the other raked through his hair. Taichi grimaced.

“When are you coming back?”

“Not sure,” he muttered. “Dad was trying to get a few more days off work, but I don’t think it’s going so well.” His father slumped heavily against the kitchen counter and rubbed at the back of his neck. Taichi sighed and turned his attention back to the rain. “Anything exciting happening back in Odaiba?”

“Not much… Oh! Did Daisuke tell you about Tamachi?”

“About the soccer match? I heard.” Once Daisuke had realised that Taichi wasn’t checking his e-mails (of which he had apparently sent six in the same evening, and two more the morning after), he’d called Taichi’s cell phone and spent the better part of twenty minutes babbling excitedly about the fixture. “I’m surprised it’s an after-school match.”

“It’s only a friendly,” Sora replied. “Do you reckon you’ll make it back in time?”

“I hope so, or I don’t think Daisuke would ever forgive me. It’s Thursday, right?”

“Yes, Thursday at four.”

“Which means the team will need extra practice.” He sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Y’know Tamachi is just using us for a warm-up before the pre-tournament fixtures begin.”

“…I wasn’t going to say it.”

“Remember how badly they thrashed Saitama last year?”

“I remember it was all you could talk about for two weeks.” Taichi chuckled, though it quickly withered in to a heavy sigh.

“They’re going to wipe the floor with us,” he muttered. Sora was quiet for a long while before she spoke again.

“It’ll be a good experience for them?”

“It’ll be an experience,” he agreed with a smile, though it quickly faded as he heard his father’s exasperated voice again. He sat up, lowering the phone a little as he watched his father drop his head in to his hands. Taichi frowned. “I’ve gotta go. I’ll speak to you tomorrow?”

“I’ll call you after school,” she said. A pause and then: “It’ll be all right, Taichi. I know it will.” Taichi made a non-commital hum and he heard Sora chuckle in response. “I’ll speak to you tomorrow. I love you.”

“Love you too,” he murmured before slipping the phone back in to his pocket. He stood and stretched, working the kinks from his spine and rolling the aches from his neck before heading back inside. He slipped quietly in to the kitchen and headed for the fridge, pulling out a pitcher of iced water.

“It’s too late for me to make it back for tomorrow,” his father was murmuring, his voice defeated. A sigh and then: “I could make it back in by Tuesday. Yes, I… I understand. Yes.” Another pause. “I’ll see you then.” He ended the call with a sigh and Taichi put the water back in the fridge.

“No extra holidays, then,” Taichi murmured. His father huffed a little and straightened, slipping the phone back in to his pocket.

“No,” he sighed. “They want me back sooner.”

“I gathered. Tuesday?”

“They’d’ve had me in today if they could.” He ran a hand over his face to wipe away the frown, though it left deep wrinkles across his forehead. His eyes flicked towards the lounge and he straightened as Taichi’s aunt came bustling in to the kitchen.

“Well?” she demanded in an urgent hiss. His father shook his head.

“We’ll be heading back to Tokyo tomorrow.” Taichi lifted his head.

“What time?” he blurted. His father fixed him with a strange look, and Taichi hoped he hadn’t sounded too enthusiastic.

“Probably after lunch,” his father answered. “It’ll give me enough time to get you and your mother home before I head back to Okegawa.” His aunt scoffed.

“You should have fought harder for your wife and your son,” she hissed, her voice laced with accusation. His father’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“I don’t have a choice,” he answered curtly. “My boss-”

“Your boss. Your job. Pah! If your job doesn’t support you, you should find another one.”

“You wouldn’t understand-”

“I understand family,” she countered. “Money isn’t everything-”

“You would say that,” his father seethed. “Your husband left you quite a legacy when he died. Not all of us are so fortunate.” Kikuro’s lips curled back in a snarl.

“I would give up every bit of it to have him back,” she spat.

“You never have to worry about keeping a roof over your head or food in your cupboards-”

Kikuro slapped him. The strike wasn’t particularly hard, but it was enough that his father was struck dumb. For a moment nobody moved; the cold glass in Taichi’s hand seared his fingers as his father straightened, his lips pressed together in a thin line. He sidled silently out of the kitchen, skirting around Kikuro who planted her hands on her hips and glared at his back.

“Where are you going?”

“Out.” He passed by the tea room without a glance, slipping easily in to his shoes.

“Susumu-”

“Don’t wait up for me.”

The door slid close behind him. Kikuro sighed and shook her head.

“That man,” she hissed. “He doesn’t understand… not like you and I do. Your sister was taken from you, while I watch mine slip further and further away from me every time I see her.” She turned sharply on her heel and rifled through a cupboard. She ripped open a packet of biscuits and tipped them carelessly on to a plate. “Here, Taichi, take these to your mother, and then go and close the storm shutters for me.” Her hand trembled as she held the plate out behind her, not meeting Taichi’s gaze, and he gulped the last of his water before taking the plate. He raised the screen in the lounge, letting the last rays of sunlight from the tearoom window filter in to the lounge.

His mother was kneeling next to the sunken teapot heater in the floor. Her eyes were fixed on the golden clouds outside while her hands were clasped around an empty teacup.

“Do you want some more tea?” His offer was met with silence and he stifled a sigh as he knelt back beside her. He thought of telling her of their imminent return to Tokyo but quickly set the thought aside; it wouldn’t be good news to her, and there was no point undoing how far she’d come before he had to. His father would tell her – probably in the morning, given that he was unlikely to return before they all went to bed.

It was a ninety-minute drive from Odawara to Odaiba, which meant that if they left just after lunch then they could be home in time for Taichi to meet the others after school. If he timed it right then he could slip out when his father went to return the rental car, and then his father would be already on his way to Okegawa by the time Taichi got back. He could say he was going to soccer practice, but then he would have to change in to his soccer kit and pack his bag or his father would get suspicious. Or – better idea – he could tell his father that he was going to track down his teachers and pick up the classwork he’d missed whilst they’d been out of town. He had a pair of black joggers in his suitcase that looked almost like school pants when paired with his green blazer and tie, which were hanging beside his bed. As for a shirt… All of his at home were dirty on account of his father surprising him with the sudden roadtrip, but he was sure the convenience store next to Starbucks had a small selection of emergency office-wear. If he packed up his belongings tonight, he could offer to grab his dad a coffee in the morning and pick one up on the way.

“Do you remember the last time we were here?” His mother’s voice was delicate and fragile, like fine glass, and Taichi blinked at the sound. Her eyes remained fixed out of the window while her skeletal fingers clutched tightly at the plate of biscuits. “You were so young… I doubt you’d remember. Hikari was almost born here. Did you know that? She gave us such a scare. Your father rushed us back to Tokyo. You slept through it all, and when you woke up you were a big brother.”

Taichi couldn’t say that he remembered the trip, beyond a vague sense of familiarity when they’d arrived at his aunt’s house, but the memory of Hikari being placed in his arms was one of the first things he could remember. His mother sniffled.

“We never got to bring her back to Odawara,” she whispered. The plate trembled and the biscuits shivered closer to the edge. Taichi reached out, taking it from her hands and setting it aside.

“We’ll bring her,” he promised, careful to keep his voice low. “I’m going to find her, and when we do we’ll all come to Odawara together. I promise.”

His mother turned to him then, and there was a sparkle of life behind her eyes that Taichi hadn’t seen in far too long. Slowly she curled her fingers around his hands – they were wiry and cold, but her grip was like iron as her eyes bored in to his.

“I know you will.”


Koushiro rocked back in his chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose. The headache that had started at the back of his neck had spread to his temples and was starting to wage war on his eyes. He might not have been able to make out some of the finer code scrolling across his screen, but he did not miss the glaring red ERROR that sat flashing in the centre.

“What am I missing?” he muttered. He didn’t receive an answer.

He drained the last of his oolong tea and tossed the empty bottle on top of a pile of others before switching over to his e-mails. He opened a new message to Gennai by sheer force of habit, and his fingers hovered over the keys as he caught himself in the act.

Since the gates had re-opened Koushiro had sent nearly a dozen e-mails and received nothing in return. That alone was new; when he’d last tried to e-mail Gennai, the messages had bounced back undelivered. Now it seemed that they were being received but were being left unanswered. Gennai had always helped them in the past, albeit in roundabout ways, so why wouldn’t he help them now? It led Koushiro to surmise that either Gennai had abandoned them, or the messages were being intercepted. Whatever the reason, it meant that Gennai was no longer a viable point of contact, and Koushiro closed the empty e-mail with a sigh.

“Another late night?”

Koushiro twisted in his chair to find his mother leaning against the doorframe, bundled up her dressing gown with a tired smile on her face. He sat up a little taller in his chair with a frown.

“What are you doing up?” he asked. She laughed quietly and stepped inside.

“I should be asking you the same thing,” she said. She perched on the side of his bed and handed him a bottle of water which he accepted with a grateful nod. She eyed the mountain of empty tea bottles beside his desk. “All that caffeine isn’t good for you.”

“Tea is healthy,” he countered.

“Not in those quantities.” He ducked his head and took a mouthful of water, and she gave a fond sigh. “I know you want to help your friends, Koushiro, but you can’t help anyone if you run yourself into the ground.”

“I know I’m close to something, I can feel it, I just… I don’t know what. I feel like I’m missing something, and it won’t tell me what it is.” A hand reached out and gently squeezed his shoulder.

“I don’t think it’s going to talk to you.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said with a dry laugh. His mother smiled a little.

“Maybe you’d be more productive if you let yourself rest every once in a while,” she suggested, smoothing the creases from his duvet. “We didn’t buy you this bed as a decoration, you know.”

“I know…” he murmured. “It’s just… four years of feeling powerless and now I finally feel like I should be able to do something but I can’t. I’ve gotten this far and now it won’t let me get any further, and I don’t know why.”

“Progress is progress, no matter how small. You’re too hard on yourself, Koushiro.”

“Funny… A friend told me the same thing.”

“Maybe this friend of yours is even smarter than you.” Koushiro glanced at her and arched his eyebrow and she stood, leaning over to kiss him on the forehead. “Promise me you’ll get some sleep tonight. You have school in the morning.”

“I know.” She fixed him with a knowing look and he ducked his head. “Just let me finish this and then I’ll go to bed, I promise.” She pursed her lips and smoothed his hair before bidding him goodnight, slipping silently back in to the hall and closing the door behind her.

She wasn’t wrong, of course; he did function better when he was firing on all cylinders, but there was something about the sprawling code before him that left him unable to switch off and walk away. Something was wrong, but it was impossible put his finger on what. Whilst he didn’t claim to know everything about the Digital World, what he did know aligned perfectly with what he could see. All the pieces were falling where he expected them to, but the puzzle was far from complete. He rocked back on his chair and rubbed at his eyes until he saw stars in an attempt to reboot his brain-

Wait.

Reboot.

His eyes flew open as he rocked forwards again, closing his e-mails and dismissing the error message to peer at the code behind; lines of binary mixed with kana and the symbols of the Digital World. What if the code was right, but the world was wrong? Most of the knowledge and data that he’d gathered was from their first adventure, but the Digital World has reformatted itself since then. He’s assumed that it had simply restored itself to its factory settings much like a computer or a hard drive, but that assumption completely disregarded the Digital World’s autonomy and apparent sentience. So what if…

What if the Digital World had evolved?

He pulled up the data he’d gathered on his laptop and set it beside his monitor. He’d attempted to parse the data several times already, but all of a sudden it was like he was looking at it for the first time. Characters he’d assumed to be leftover fragments and anomalies were suddenly starting to make a strange sort of sense; he couldn’t understand them yet, but once he saw how they repeated – the same way, over and over, in the same conditions – he wondered how he hadn’t seen it before.

He slumped in his chair, raking his hands through his hair. The breakthrough was enormously satisfying, but the implications were decidedly less so. He would have to recode all of his programs from scratch, but there would be no point starting that project until he had figured out the Digital World’s new language. It didn’t seem to have changed all that much, given that he had easily mistaken it for the language he knew despite having hit several dead-ends, but he had no way of knowing just how significant the changes were without hours of investigation.

He pushed up his sleeves and readied his fingers over his keyboard before pausing. It was too much work to accomplish in one night (he was good, but even he wasn’t that good). With a heavy sigh he admitted defeat. It was hardly conducive to success to run himself to exhaustion, especially when he was so far from the finish line. He reluctantly reached forwards to turn off his desktop monitor while his other hand closed the lid of his laptop. Sleep now; crack the secrets of the Digital World later. He peeled himself out of his chair and stretched, rolling his neck before tip-toeing to the bathroom. The door to his parents’ room was ajar, and the dim light of a bedside lamp sliced through the darkness of the hallway. Koushiro winced as he heard low murmurs from within, and he quickly hurried inside to prepare for bed.

The door was closed when he returned to his room.

He changed in to his pyjamas in the dark and slowly shimmied under the bed covers. His brain was still abuzz with thoughts and theories, but they were quickly silence by sleep’s strong embrace, and he quickly drifted into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

Sometime later the darkness was broken by a flicker from Koushiro’s screen as it lit up. Koushiro rolled over in his sleep, burying his face in to his pillow as his computer whirred to life. Streams of numbers and symbols rained across the screen; a trickle that quickly became a downpour. All too soon the data on the screen became a storm of information that rattled around the computer, pouring through the systems and flooding the hardware. Each element of the computer had been carefully curated to give Koushiro maximum resources in order to run even the most demanding of simulations, but they could not keep up with this. The fans whirred, unable to keep up as the errant data continued its attack, and the temperature soared. 

Koushiro’s digivice flared. The Crest of Knowledge flashed across the screen as a beam of purple light lanced out towards the monitor, piercing the eye of the data storm and sending light pouring through the system. Piece by piece it took back control of the hardware – purging the dark data first from the motherboard and then the graphics card before launching an attack on the CPU where the darkness was attempting to overload the computer’s processing power. The digivice flared and the light wrapped itself around the processor, bleeding in to the silicone and flushing out the darkness. It escaped along the chassis, slipping out of an air vent and darting across the floor like a shadow before slipping out of the open window.

When Izumi Yoshie came to check on him, attracted by the light that danced across the hallway from the small gap beneath her son’s door, she found Koushiro fast asleep in his bed in a dark and empty room. There was a chill in the air that made her pull her dressing gown tighter around her neck, and her eyes drifted to the window. She tip-toed across the room to pull it closed and left a gentle kiss on her son’s cheek before slipping back out in to the hall, closing the door silently behind her.

Chapter Text


POUNDING HEARTS AND RUMPLED FUR


“Hikari, come on! We have to hurry!”

Hikari crashed through the bushes, pushing the brambles from her face as another twig scratched her cheek. Her eyes stung and she bit her lip as she stumbled blindly through the bushes after Tailmon’s voice.

“I can’t go any faster!” she cried, clutching at her whistle. She heard Tailmon’s claws slicing through the bushes, and then they were gone and Hikari spilled out on to a narrow path. Tailmon cried her name and pulled her to her feet, dusting down Hikari’s pink shorts and straightening her yellow shirt.

“We have to keep moving,” she said. She reached out and took Hikari’s hand in her paw, and then they were running again. Hikari clamped her lips together and swallowed a whimper as she ran as hard as she could. She had to be strong and tough like Taichi. Taichi was waiting for her.

But her breath was catching in her chest and her head was sore. Her tummy hurt. Tailmon’s paw fell from her fingers and Hikari bit back tears as she stumbled over her feet, crashing heavily against a tree to keep from falling. Tailmon leapt back to her side, glancing nervously over her shoulder before taking Hikari’s hand again.

“We have to try,” she said. “You heard Elecmon; the gate could close at any minute. Please keep trying, Hikari. For me.” Hikari clenched her eyes shut and squeezed Tailmon’s paw, and then she took a big deep breath (just like Taichi did sometimes) and then they took off again.

They followed the path as it descended, twisting and turning around trees and bushes and roots that were tall enough for Hikari to run under. Hikari let Tailmon pull her along, focusing on the sound of her partner’s voice and trying to ignore how her chest felt like that one time her dad had squeezed her too hard after coming home from the hospital. The thought made her want to cry. She wished her dad was squeezing her now.

“C’mon, Hikari. Keep going.”

Tailmon had already tried to evolve three times, but Angewomon was still too tired from their fight with Apokarimon to help them now. When Primary Village had appeared they’d cheered and sprinted down the hill, but as they had picked their way carefully through the growing mountains of eggs they’d been spied by Elecmon who had hurried them on their way.

“We’re almost there!” Hikari scrubbed tears from her cheeks and she lifted her head. The trees looked thinner here, like they were coming to the edge of the forest. Her breath hitched. She didn’t want to be away from Taichi anymore, and she didn’t want to have to run anymore, but when they caught up to the others then she would have to say goodbye to Tailmon, and she didn’t want that either.

Tailmon bounded ahead and clambered up a nearby tree to check they were still heading in the right direction. Hikari leant heavily against the trunk, gulping in breaths. She felt sick. Her head hurt. She crouched down, burying her head in her knees and shutting her eyes so hard she saw stars.

“Wait…no…” Tailmon whispered. Hikari looked up, wiping away tears as Tailmon leapt down towards her. She grabbed Hikari’s wrist and ran again, pulling her along so quickly that Hikari felt like she was flying.

“Tailmon – you’re hurting me-”

“We have to hurry!”

At last they left the last of the trees and bushes, and then they were running on sand, flying towards a lake. A narrow path joined the beach to a small island where Hikari could see Gennai, Piyomon, Tentomon, Palmon, and a trolley car. Elecmon had said something about a trolley car. It was how they were going to get home.

But it was already moving. The top of the trolley car was sparking with small bolts of electricity as it picked up speed, rolling away from them.

“No!” Hikari screamed. They had to wait. They couldn’t leave yet. They couldn’t leave her behind. “Wait! Come back! Come ba-” Her toe caught in the sand and she fell. The sand stung her eyes as she rolled towards the water. Footsteps were thundering towards her and hands helped her sit up. Gennai was there, his frail hands holding her tightly as she watched the trolley car disappear in to the sun-

Hikari woke with a jolt. She couldn’t breath. Her chest was tight and her eyes were burning, and she tugged the blanket over her head as she buried her face in her knees. She stuffed a fist in to her mouth and focused on the feeling of her teeth on her knuckles. She bit down, hard, until it was all she could think about. Only then did the ache in her chest start to ease.

She couldn’t remember the last time she had dreamed of the trolley car. Years, at least. It left her reeling, and it took several minutes of deep breathing through her nose before she could peel back the blankets and wipe the last of her tears away.

Tailmon was watching her. As Hikari sat up she leapt towards her, bringing a canteen of water which Hikari gratefully accepted.

“Hikari?” Tailmon asked softly. Hikari raised the canteen to her lips to keep her teeth from chattering and she took several deep gulps.

“‘m f-fine,” she whispered. Gatomon’s eyes flashed.

“Liar.” Hikari shivered and tugged the blanket around her shoulders before stepping outside. Jou had offered them space in the big hut but Hikari had politely declined; she slept better in smaller spaces (at least, she usually did). The big hut was too big and filled with too many unfamiliar noises. She and Tailmon had spent the afternoon setting up a small shelter of their own, and with Jou’s permission they had dug out a small fire pit. It was only as Hikari settled in beside it that she realised she had no way of lighting the fire, and she was grateful when Tailmon followed a moment later with the flint and steel.

The skies were still dark overhead, but despite the early hour they sat and ate a cold fish and a handful of berries. Eventually the warmth from the fire made it through to Hikari’s bones and she finally stopped trembling. Tailmon took the remains of the fish and buried them on the outskirts of the camp before settling back by the fire. The skies were lighter now, filled with a pre-dawn light that banished the darkness.

“How do you feel now?” Tailmon asked. Hikari closed her eyes and tightened her grip on the blanket.

“Itchy.”

There were better words to describe the feeling, but she didn’t know them. It wasn’t like an itch on her skin – it was an itch that ran deep in to her bones and pumped through her veins. An itch that made her want to move; to run far away until she couldn’t run any more. An itch she couldn’t scratch with her fingers.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Talking helped sometimes. Hikari brought the blanket up to her chin and stared in to the fire, nodding slowly. She didn’t know where to begin. Tailmon settled in beside her, leaning heavily against Hikari’s arm. The weight felt comforting.

“You dreamed about the trolley car again, didn’t you?” Tailmon asked. Hikari nodded slowly. An awkward silence fell between them then, and Hikari knew what was coming next before Tailmon had even opened her mouth. “Why didn’t you go back?”

It was a question Tailmon had tried to ask her a thousand times now; ever since the first time they’d watched Daisuke disappear through the television screen back to the human world. A thousand times, Hikari had changed the subject before Tailmon could bring it up, and a thousand times Tailmon had let it slide.

“It’s too dangerous for me to leave,” Hikari answered. “We’ve made the Kaiser mad-”

“No more than we have before.” She wouldn’t let it slide this time. In truth, Hikari had known her chances of derailing the conversation were slim at best. She sighed as Tailmon’s head lolled against her arm. “Tell me the truth.”

Hikari stared up at the sky, watching the last stubborn stars as they disappeared behind the sunrise. She had tried. And she knew that Tailmon knew, even if Tailmon had been too kind to mention it. The night after they had first met Daisuke, Hikari had crept back to the television set under cover of darkness, when she should have been sleeping, and had sat there with her digivice outstretched until the sun had begun to rise – long enough for her to wonder if perhaps she was the problem.

“Everything will be so different now,” she whispered. “What if… What if I don’t belong there anymore? What if I belong here now? What if-” Her throat tightened around the words and she shut her eyes, bowing her head and hiding behind her hair. Tailmon’s paw found the crook of her elbow.

“What if…” she prompted.

What if Taichi didn’t miss me as much as I missed him? The question was too scary to ask aloud, but it bounced around her head. What if they all moved on without me?

The itch was spreading to her feet now. Already her heart was beginning to race. She stood suddenly, sending Tailmon tilting sideways as she barrelled inside their small hut.

“Hikari?”

“I need to run,” she answered. She threw the blanket over her pillow and shrugged her way in to her tunic and fastened it around her waist before reaching for boots. She tightened the straps around her ankles, and by the time she was reaching for her bow Tailmon was there.

“I’m coming with you,” she said in a voice that left no room for argument. Hikari fastened her quiver across her chest and accepted her bow with a grateful nod before slipping out of camp and heading East towards the rising sun. All too soon, Hikari lost herself to the rhythm of her feet pounding against the floor. They emerged from a field of tall grey grass, skirting the shadow of a Dark Tower as the sun’s first rays banished the chill from her bones, bringing the dawn of a new day.


They hadn’t left Odewara until mid-afternoon, with Kikuro fussing around her sister and trying to make excuses for them to stay, and after a particularly frosty goodbye they had finally piled in to the car just in time to make it back to Odaiba as school was finishing for the day. Taichi had stayed long enough to help take the suitcases up to the apartment and to grab his school blazer; his father had given him a strange look when he’d said he was going to school to collect his class work, but he hadn’t questioned it (and the ease with which he’d believed Taichi’s lie made Taichi think he hadn’t believed it at all).

The reaction he received when he opened the door to the lab wasn’t exactly what he’d been expecting. Sora’s eyes bulged and Koushiro’s mouth hung open awkwardly. Daisuke grinned and opened his mouth to speak but was quickly silenced by Miyako who elbowed him in the gut while Iori busied himself with tidying up several empty snack wrappers from the digimon who were staring up at Taichi with smears of chocolate and crumbs around their mouths.

“T-Taichi!” Sora spluttered, the first to regain any kind of composure. She stood and straightened her skirt – something she often did when she was nervous – and Taichi tried to ignore the way his stomach bubbled.

“Hey guys,” he greeted, trying to keep his voice bright as he closed the door slowly behind him. Koushiro cleared his throat.

“We weren’t expecting to see you until Thursday,” he said in a voice that was so calm it was almost robotic. Taichi shrugged, watching Koushiro from the corner of his eye as he did his best to remain casual despite the mounting tension in the air. He could almost taste it.

“Dad got called back in to work tomorrow. We came back early so we could get mum home again.” And so he could get back out of town. The words went unspoken, but Sora’s smile tightened and he knew that she had heard them anyway.

“I wish you’d called,” she said through a strained smile. Taichi swallowed thickly and forced a smile of his own.

“Why? Did I miss something?”

That the question was not met by some sort of explosion from Daisuke was worry in and of itself. Daisuke was instead looking to Koushiro who was looking to Sora who was looking right back at him. (Miyako and Iori were looking nervously to each other, while the digimon were looking hungrily at the bag of snacks in Iori’s hands.) Sora smoothed her already perfect skirt and lifted her chin the way she always did when she was about to tell him something he didn’t want to hear. He frowned.

“We found Hikari. She’s all right,” she added hastily, which only made Taichi frown more.

“So why didn’t anyone tell me?” he asked. He glanced around their small group and a more pressing question quickly presented itself. “Why isn’t she here?”

“She didn’t want to come back, not just yet,” Sora offered quietly. “She said she had things to take care of before she could.”

“Like what?”

“She didn’t say,” Koushiro answered in a very matter-of-fact voice which told Taichi he was edging towards being unreasonable. Taichi took a deep breath and Koushiro continued. “I imagine she’s made a home for herself in the Digital World, just like Jou. It can’t be easy to give it all up, even if it is to come home.” Sora stepped closer and took Taichi’s hand in hers.

“We know you, Taichi,” she said in an almost whisper. “It wouldn’t have been fair to tell you when you were in Odawara. I was going to come over when you were back in town and tell you then.” He almost allowed himself to be mad at them before he realised that they were right (and when were they not?); it would have torn him apart to be saddled with the knowledge that Hikari had been found but be powerless to do anything about it. Perhaps it was kinder this way. He swallowed his pride and squeezed Sora’s hand.

“So… how was she?”

Daisuke did most of the talking as he recapped their last adventure, talking about a great white monster and falling from a cliff and a picnic with berries. Taichi’s mind wandered as he listened, hearing less of what Daisuke was saying and more of how he was saying it. There was a sort of reverence in the boy’s tone that reminded Taichi of how the boys in his class used to talk about the girls in magazines. He hadn’t noticed it before (or, perhaps he had, but had chosen to ignore it), but there was a definite note of infatuation in his voice, and Taichi landed on the sudden and jarring realisation that his sister would be Daisuke’s age now.

What would she look like, he wondered as Daisuke began talking about their fight with Ikkakumon. What would she be like? She wouldn’t be a little girl anymore, that was for sure. Would she even need a big brother? Would she still want one? And if she did, what would he even do? Would he have to keep boys like Daisuke at bay? That was what big brothers did in the dramas his mother liked to watch, but was that what big brothers were supposed to do in real life-

He was pulled from his thoughts when Sora pressed something cold in to his hand and wrapped his fingers around it. He blinked himself back in to the room and found her smiling gently at him.

“She asked us to give you this,” she said, squeezing his hand one last time before stepping back. For a moment he simply stared at her, too afraid to look down, and she offered him a reassuring smile as she fell back next to Koushiro. Taichi took a deep breath and tore his eyes away, glancing down to his hand where he found a threadbare pink ribbon peeking out from between his fingers. His heart stopped as he uncurled his fingers to stare at the whistle. It didn’t quite gleam as brightly as he remembered, but aside from a couple of minor scratches it was mostly unchanged.

It gave him hope that he would find his sister in much the same way.

He didn’t force a smile – he wouldn’t insult Sora and Koushiro by pretending that he was happy about how things had worked out – but he did nod, doing his best to show that he understood. Sora gave him a relieved smile as Koushiro nodded in return, and Taichi didn’t miss how Daisuke and the others let out a tense breath. Only then did Taichi smile, if only for Daisuke’s sake; the kid had been staring at him with a shadow in his eyes that didn’t suit his usually boisterous expression, and it was starting to make him nervous. He gestured to the gate and Daisuke jumped in to action, and Taichi felt Sora slip her hand in to his as the gate swallowed them.

They emerged in the middle of an empty field, with a wall of trees behind them and a vast empty landscape marred by a Dark Tower no bigger than Taichi’s thumb. Tall strands of grey-green grass brushed at Taichi’s knees as the cool air danced across the back of his neck. He shivered. As the others pulled themselves to their feet, Taichi glanced down at the whistle. His other hand tightened around his digivice and he studied the screen. No other signals for miles, and yet…

He lifted the whistle to his lips and blew.

Trees rustled in the distance. The wind whispered through the grass. The dots on Taichi’s digivice didn’t change. He let out a heavy breath and closed his eyes, lowering the whistle to his chest and letting his digivice fall back to his hip as he heard the others close in around him. Delicate fingers wrapped around his elbow.

“Taichi?” Sora asked tentatively. Taichi opened his eyes and scanned the horizon, landing on the Dark Tower, and he lifted his chin.

“Hikari or no Hikari,” he said in a voice that sounded much stronger than he felt, “that Kaiser isn’t going to take care of himself. I don’t know about you guys, but I see a Dark Tower on the horizon that’s really ruining my day.”

“Then let’s get it!” Daisuke cheered, his sentiments echoed by an equally-enthusiastic Veemon. They were the first to evolve, closely followed by the others, and Fladramon led the digimon in a charge across the plain with their partners close behind. Taichi hung back, clutching Hikari’s whistle in one hand and Sora’s hand in the other as they followed.

“I’m sure she’s coming, Taichi,” Sora offered, but her voice was weak. She squeezed his hand and gave him a smile. “You blew the whistle so loud I’m sure everyone in a hundred miles heard it.”

“Yeah,” Taichi murmured, eyeing the Dark Tower as Fladramon launched his first assault. “That’s what I’m worried about.”


The bright light and sudden growth that came with digivolution made Ken hold his breath until it faded, and he let it out in a single bark of victorious laughter.

“You see, Wormmon?” he taunted, his eyes glued to the screen. “This is a real digimon – a powerful digimon – something you could never hope to be.” The screen showed the evidence of his victory; Agumon was gone, without a hint of SkullGreymon. The dark spiral had worked precisely as intended, leaving Ken with full control over MetalGreymon, corrupted and cowed by Ken’s power. Where a normal evolution might have given him bright orange skin, this MetalGreymon was pale grey-blue, casting the silver of its armour in a new, colder light. Once-orange tufts of hair were now crimson red as they jutted out from beneath his gleaming silver helm, and the purple of his stripes matched the purple of his tattered wings. Altogether, the creature’s mere presence was impressive, and his strength… Ken couldn’t wait to see it in action. At Ken’s feet, Wormmon tucked his scrawny chin in to his chest and shivered.

“Yes, master,” he mumbled. Ken sniffed.

“The dark spiral is a league above the dark rings,” Ken continued, his sharp eyes picking out the lines of black that looped around MetalGreymon’s upper arm. He glanced across to his second monitor to review the feedback from the spiral. Where the ring had warped and stretched itself thin in an attempt to contain such power, the spiral held strong; a constant source of control that was no match for the creature’s free will. Ken allowed himself a victorious smirk. “They can easily contain the power of an adult digimon, and I bet they can do much, much more…” He eyed the spiral hungrily, wondering just what else it could enslave. He considered wrapping one around Wormmon, if only to see whether the digimon did in fact have any higher powers, but he scoffed. Wormmon was pitiful at best; even the weakest of Ken’s resources would be wasted on him.

Instead he let his mind wander to all of the digimon he had encountered so far in his adventures. He had encountered so many child level digimon, all with the ability to evolve… Left to their own devices it could take years, if it ever happened at all, but with his intervention… He allowed himself a moment to indulge the thought of entire villages full of adult digimon and beyond bowing to his will.

“Wormmon.” The insect jumped, his claws skittering nervously across the floor, and Ken sneered. “See that the spirals go in to immediate production. The dark rings are useless to me now; destroy them and re-use all you can.” He paused, his breath held as though about to issue further instruction, and after letting Wormmon writhe nervously for several seconds he turned to leer down at him. “Well, what are you waiting for?!” With a surprised yelp, Wormmon scurried from the room.

Ken sank in to his throne with a satisfied sigh. SkullGreymon had been a thorn in his side form the day of Agumon’s capture, and to have his presence eliminated by such a simple modification… It was almost too easy. The next challenge was deciding where to set him loose.

He flicked through his monitors, surveying the world beneath him. He found the girl easily enough; she was sat on a small hillock, sharing a handful of fruit with her partner. He lingered for a moment to watch them. Capturing that Tailmon had been a goal for some time now, but she was an adult – and a strong one at that, given how easily she maintained her evolution. She had been out of reach before, but with the dark spiral now in his arsenal… Ken smiled at the thought, but today was not a day for capture. That was a thrill he would save for later.

He moved on, and his smirk quickly turned to a sneer. The blond boy was scouting nearby. Ken almost missed the days when the boy had been too easy a target to bother himself with; ever since his rodent partner had gained the powers of Hope the pair had taken up more of his time than he cared to admit. MetalGreymon might have been a match for them now, but Ken wasn’t willing to gamble on such uncertain odds.

A sensor started to beep. He let the node fill the screen and his eyes narrowed as the sound of a soccer whistle filled the room. He quickly muted the sound, staring at the trespassers. Five humans, but only three digimon – and rather inexperienced they were, too. Yes, they would make the perfect chew toys for MetalGreymon.

He swept from the room, summoning Wormmon with a yell. The digimon emerged from the shadows and scuttled after him.

“Yes, master?”

“I’m going on a trip,” he announced. “Have MetalGreymon strapped to as many Airdramon as it takes to carry him; I won’t have him exhausting himself by travelling before the fun’s even begun. I want this done by the time I reach the cells, Wormmon. I will not be kept waiting.” The creature bobbed his head and scurried away frantically as Ken tugged his gloves higher and tightened the fastenings around his neck.

It was a Snimon who flew him from the base to the cells, easily overtaking Wormmon who was running as fast as his pitiful legs would carry him. Snimon set Ken down by the entrance of the smaller cells, those used for housing lesser digimon, and he made his ways past glowing eyes and rumbling growls and scratching claws. He remained unfazed; these creatures were his, bound to his will by dark rings – and soon by spirals. Perhaps he would need to enhance his current facilities to deal with the countless adult digimon he would soon have under his command.

Finally he arrived at his destination. He made no attempt to quieten his footsteps as he approached, though it took the inhabitant several seconds to acknowledge him. Shaggy blond hair fell away as two piercing blue eyes glared at him.

“Comfortable?” Ken taunted. The boy didn’t respond. “I’d ask if you minded me dropping by but seeing as I have you at my mercy, your opinion doesn’t really matter.” The boy’s eyes narrowed but he remained silent. Ken sniffed. “Nothing to say? Have it your way then. I only came by to tell you that I’m off to meet a few of your friends. If all goes well, they’ll be occupying the cells around you before the end of the day. And if things don’t go according to plan…” He allowed himself a smirk. “Then there won’t be enough left of them to imprison.” The boy opened his mouth but Ken had already turned away, and whatever curses the boy cast at his back were lost under the restless snorts of his neighbours.

By the time Ken emerged again, he found MetalGreymon waiting with a contingent of Airdramon hovering overhead. Wormmon scurried closer.

“Master, MetalGreymon is ready for you.” Ken snapped his fingers and one of the Airdramon dipped low enough for him to leap on to its back. He stared down at Wormmon who was craning his neck to the sky.

“Don’t wait up.”


They finished off the last of the pears (which tasted like peaches) and took some time to bask in the midday sun. The itch was gone now, and a morning of running had left Hikari’s legs aching. She rolled her ankles and flexed her feet, wiggling her toes to keep the ache of stopping from setting in too soon.

Her eyes scanned the horizon. They’d travelled a considerable distance in the space of a morning, and when she glanced back over her shoulder the dark tower was nowhere to be seen. She felt calmer when she couldn’t see them, even though Tailmon’s inability to digivolve confirmed there would be another nearby. She tried not to worry about it too much, and focused instead on the dark smudge that marred the side of a distant hill. A cavern of some sort, judging by the way the shadows were packed so tightly together.

“What do you think’s in there?” she asked, pointing it out to Tailmon. Her sharp eyes could easily pick it out, and her ears twitched forwards.

“Probably something best left alone.” She glanced at Hikari with a wicked glint in her eye, and when she smiled her fangs gleamed. “Wanna check it out?” Hikari grinned back. Alone the cave would have terrified her, but there was something about diving in to the unknown with Tailmon at her side that left her feeling as fearless as Taichi.

Together they raced across the plains, the sun warm on their backs, and Hikari forgot all about cable cars and gates and anything that wasn’t right there infront of them. Tailmon bounded gracefully alongside her, baring her fangs in a wild grin as they ran so fast it almost felt like flying. It was almost like old times, before there was a chance of them going home, before the Kaiser, before they had anything more to think about beyond where to find dinner and where to spend the night. It was wild and carefree, all adrenaline and grass stains. Pounding hearts and rumpled fur.

They arrived at the mouth of the cavern flushed and panting. Hikari’s legs were shaking and her blood was racing, and she grinned breathlessly at Tailmon as they ventured inside. Hikari knocked an arrow as they followed the curve of the cave, slipping into the shadows where the sunlight couldn’t reach. As Hikari’s eyes began to adjust she spied torches wedged in to cracks in the walls, giving them just enough light to see from one sconce to the next. The flames burned low, casting tall gyrating shadows against the stone. Hikari’s heart pounded in her ears; a thundering drumbeat in the deafening silence.

Her digivice beeped. She jumped, unable to scream past the breath that stuck in her throat. At her side Tailmon had dropped in to a low crouch, claws bared, and when they met each other’s eyes they giggled nervously. Hikari untucked her digivice from the wrappings around her waist and studied the screen.

“There’s something up ahead,” she whispered. The device had been mostly inactive since the appearance of the Kaiser, but now the screen had flared to life and identified a small red dot that appeared to be something of extreme importance given how violently the digivice was shaking beneath her fingers. She should have been scared, but there was something about the reassuring pulses from her digivice that made her excited. Something was calling to her; reaching to her chest and pulling her further in to the dark.

The cavern ended in a small grotto which housed two tall mounds of dirt. The mound to the left was empty, though the dent at its peak suggested it must have held something in the past. The mound to the right was home to a strange trinket no bigger than Hikari’s fists. Its outer shell was glistening silver, cut away to reveal a flash of gold at the tip. It stood on two gleaming feet, each decorated with three pink claws, and engraved on its front was the Crest of Light. It almost seemed to pulse as they approached, glowing with a light of its own.

“I think it’s yours,” Tailmon whispered as they came to a stop. Hikari couldn’t tear her eyes away, but her hands remained firmly at her sides.

“I’m not sure,” she answered softly. “Daisuke lifted the Digimental of Courage, and Jou said Iori and Miyako have the Digimentals of Knowledge and Love. What if there are more new Chosen out there?” Tailmon’s large eyes blinked up at Hikari.

“You’ll never know if you don’t try.” Hikari felt like she did know. She would place her hands on either side of the Digimental (and it had to be a Digimental), and she would tug and pull and twist, but at most it would shock her away. The Digimentals were for the new Chosen Children with their strange new D-3s. Still, at Tailmon’s urging she stepped forwards and reached towards it.

She felt something shift behind her and she twisted out of the way. Something whizzed past her ear and embedded itself in the wall behind the Digimental – too wide to have been targeted at her. It was a warning. Tailmon yowled and Hikari turned, knocking an arrow as her partner darted forwards to knock a shadow from the air. A fierce growl from Tailmon told her that she had whatever it was under control, and Hikari fixed her eyes on the mouth of the cavern where a figure was silhouetted by the dim torchlight. It was tall with wiry, human-like proportions, and as Hikari raised her arrow it responded by twirling a vicious staff in its hands, faster and faster until it became an impenetrable blur.

Her eyes landed on a torch over the creatures shoulder and she released an arrow, knocking the sconce to the floor. The disturbance drew the digimon’s attention and it shifted, just enough for Hikari to dart in to its blind spot. The digimon seemed to be expecting her, and it reached out to snare her injured wrist. Hikari gasped sharply, and the pain that lanced up her arm left her defenceless as the digimon span her around and sent her careening in to a nearby wall with a cry. Tailmon called her name but Hikari barely heard it over the ringing in her ears as she fell to the floor. She blinked stars from her vision to find the digimon reaching towards her and she scrambled back, reaching over her shoulder to pull an arrow from her quiver.

To her surprise the digimon leapt back. Someone was calling her name, but her breath was coming in sharp gasps and her heart was pounding in her ears. The digimon’s hands flew to its face, tucking its fingers under its chin. It tore the mask away, freeing a shaggy mane of golden hair. Blue eyes widened in surprise as he stared at her, his voice deep and breathy as he uttered a single word:

“Hikari!”

Chapter Text


THE SPHINX AND THE SKELETON


“Hikari!”

For a moment she merely sat, staring up at him with her mouth hanging open like a goldfish. Tailmon cleared her throat and Hikari blinked, glancing across the cavern to where her partner was stood next to Patamon. Only then did her brain finally reboot.

“Takeru!” she finally exclaimed, her voice louder than she meant it to be. He smiled and leant towards her, gripping her arm and lifting her to her feet with such force that she flew in to his chest. She gasped in surprise, drawing in a lungful of sweat and grass, and when they broke apart she found herself hoping the light was dim enough that he wouldn’t notice her burning cheeks.

“Hikari!” Patamon barrelled in to her chest and Hikari squeezed him tightly, keeping one eye on Takeru as he crouched to greet Tailmon (who was watching Hikari with something akin to a smirk).

“Sorry, by the way,” Takeru said with a bashful chuckle, “for attacking you. I couldn’t see you, and then Tailmon attacked-”

“You threw a knife,” she retorted, narrowing her eyes at Takeru who chuckled and ran a hand through his hair.

“It was only supposed to be a distraction,” he offered. “I didn’t see Tailmon at first, and when I thought you were alone I thought you might have been the Kaiser.” Tailmon snorted.

“You’ve met him, then?” she drawled. Takeru nodded, his expression grim.

“A couple of times,” he answered. “You?”

“Once or twice,” Hikari answered quickly before Tailmon could answer. Tailmon’s tail twitched, her tail ring glinting in the low torchlight, but she didn’t offer anything further. Takeru dipped his head sharply.

“You should try and avoid him. The things I’ve seen him do...” His fingers curled in to fists. “He has Yamato. Jou said the Kaiser is holding him prisoner but they don’t know where.” A shadow washed over his face and he pressed his lips tightly together. Hikari felt her stomach tighten at the mention of Yamato. She wondered if Takeru had even seen him since their final battle.

“We heard,” she murmured.

“We thought we might be able to find him but…” he grimaced and shook his head. Patamon swooped out of Hikari’s arms and perched on top of Takeru’s head. He flattened himself in Takeru’s hair and used the tips of his ears to tickle Takeru’s jaw.

“Don’t worry, Takeru,” he said with a grin. “We’ll find him!” Takeru batted Patamon’s ears away and smiled a little. Hikari swallowed thickly.

“So… What have you been doing up here?” she asked, keeping her voice light and airy in an attempt to lift the mood. “Jou said you had some stuff to take care of.”

“We sure did!” Patamon chirped. “But now that you’re here, we can leave again.” Hikari frowned and glanced to Tailmon who looked equally confused.

“What do you mean ‘now that we’re here’?” Tailmon asked. Takeru smiled.

“We were only protecting the Digimental until you could come and get it,” he answered.

“But… it’s not mine,” Hikari said softly, although it sounded more like a question. Now it was Takeru’s turn to be confused, and she quickly brought him up to speed on Daisuke and the other new children who had inherited the Digimentals. When she was done, Takeru folded his arms with a frown and glanced up to Patamon.

“I just saw the Crest of Hope and figured it was for us,” he said. Patamon nodded in firm agreement

“You should pick it up and see what happens!” Hikari looked to Tailmon again and Tailmon shrugged. After all, what was the worst that could happen? A slight jolt to the fingers was nothing compared to the potential power the Digimental could unlock. Hikari took a deep steeling breath and turned back to the mounds of earth. The Crest of Light danced with a cool pink light as she approached, and she felt her digivice thrum on her hip as she reached out towards it.

It came away easily. It fit perfectly in her hands – neither too big nor too small, not too light or too heavy – and a gentle warmth flooded through her fingers and spread in to her arms as the cavern was flooded with blazing pink-white light. She didn’t know when she let go of the Digimental, but by the time her digivice grew warm against her waist her hands were free to untuck it from her waistband. It shivered in her palm and trembled before being struck by a jet of pink light that set it blazing. When the light faded, the digivice had become a D-3 with a white body, black buttons and a vibrant pink grip. The screen was larger and trimmed in black, and there at the centre were two dots – one pink and one green. As the light began to fade Hikari felt something forming in her other hand, and she stared at the device that had suddenly made its way in to her grasp. The body was speckled silver with a black grip under her fingers and a cluster of buttons on either side. Daisuke had one of these too, she remembered as she lifted the hard flat to reveal a large screen which currently bore an outline of the Digimental of Light.

“What is this?” she asked, peering at it in the darkness. Her eyes were still adjusting, and the bright light of the screen was making it hard to examine the device in any great detail.

“It’s called a D-Terminal.” Takeru reached over her shoulder to push one of the larger buttons, and Hikari’s breath caught in her throat as the words ‘D-Terminal’ flashed across the screen.

“I got one too when my digivice changed,” he said, rummaging through the large pocket of his leaf-covered trousers to withdraw an identical device. He flipped open the screen and quickly navigated through the menu. “There are other names here too – these are the others you were telling me about right?” He opened an address book and showed it to Hikari, where she saw five names listed. She peered back at her own screen and let Takeru guide her through the menu until she could bring the list up on her D-Terminal too.

“Is it just the five of us?” Takeru nodded.

“I’m guessing you only get added to the list when you get a D-Terminal.”

“But what do they do?” It had seemed rude to ask Daisuke (especially when there was a high chance that he wouldn’t know either), but now that she had one of her own her curiosity was running in overdrive. She began flicking through the menu, quickly adapting to the controls and memorising where everything was.

“I haven’t really figured that out yet,” Takeru answered with a nervous laugh. “There’s the list of names, and there’s the Digimental, but we haven’t really figured out much else yet.”

“Maybe Koushiro will know more,” Hikari suggested as she prodded the buttons and skimmed through the menu. “I’m sure the others will be back again soon. Daisuke said they’ve been to the Digital World a few times now, and they seem to come and go whenever they want to.”  

“Do you think that means we could go home again?” Takeru asked. Hikari’s stomach tightened as Patamon’s ears drooped.

“Do you wanna go?” he asked, a sad note in his voice. Takeru swept him in to his arms flipped him on to his back to tickle the cream fur on his tummy.

“I don’t wanna leave you, Patamon,” he said as Patamon squealed and wriggled in Takeru’s arms. “But I’d like to see my mom again. And my dad. And maybe get some of those chocolate bars you used to like so much-”

“Candy?!” Patamon exclaimed. He flew from Takeru’s arms and flew in circles around Takeru’s head. “Human candy is the best!” Tailmon arched an eyebrow and flicked her tail as she watched him spiral higher towards the roof of the cave. Takeru shook his head with a fond laugh before turning his attention back to Hikari.

“Well, we should probably get back to Jou. There’s nothing left for us to do now that you’ve got the Digimental.”

“I wonder who you’ll become!” Patamon breathed as he dropped back on to Takeru’s head, his eyes wide with wonder. Tailmon’s ears twitched.

“What do you mean?”

“When you evolve with the Digimental, it’s a completely new form!” he exclaimed. “It feels so cool! And kinda tingly…” Tailmon’s eyes travelled to the D-3 in Hikari’s hand and she looped her tail around Hikari’s ankles. Hikari felt her heart thundering in her chest at the realisation that they would be able to evolve now, even from beneath the shadow of the Kaiser’s Dark Towers. She tightened her grip on her D-3 and sucked in a sharp breath. Takeru closed his fingers around hers with a smile that made her cheeks burn.

“Maybe you should wait until you’re outside,” he suggested. Then, to Tailmon: “We don’t know how big you’re going to get.” Her eyes flashed and her tail twitched eagerly, and Hikari tried to ignore the burning in her cheeks as Takeru led them out of the cave.

“That’s smart,” Patamon chirped from his perch atop Takeru’s hair. “When I evolved to Pegasusmon, I couldn’t get out again.”

“Who?” Tailmon asked. He turned back to them with a wink.

“You’ll see!”

As they emerged in to the late-afternoon sun, Tailmon leapt from Hikari’s shoulders with such force that Hikari was left stumbling sideways in to Takeru. He wrapped his hands around her shoulders and carefully kept her on his feet, and when Hikari tried to thank him she found her voice had deserted her. Tailmon came to the rescue then, calling Hikari’s name as he hunkered low against the ground, ready for whatever new powers the Digimental might give her. Hikari took a deep breath and curled her fingers around the D-3 as she thrust it into the air.

“Digimental up!”

Tailmon was swept off the floor as she was surrounded by a nimbus of light that sank in to her skin. Her body twisted as her limbs lengthened and two startling-white wings blossomed from her back. When the glow finally faded, Hikari drank in the new digimon’s white fur and long, purple-striped tail that was so like Tailmon’s, right down to the purple tuft at its tip. She looked more cat-like than ever now as she stood on all fours; her back paws were bare, exposing gleaming pink claws, while her front were covered in Tailmon’s green and purple gloves. Her forelegs were wrapped in silver armour trimmed with gold and decorated each with a single precious gem in dazzling pink. Her shoulders were plated in matching armour, and a close-fitting silver breastplate was engraved with purple markings and decorated with a thick gold necklace. Gleaming eyes peered down at Hikari from behind a stern, silver mask, and her golden ears twitched as she landed gracefully back on the ground.

“Nefertimon, the angel of light!” she proclaimed. Hikari let out the breath she’d been holding and rushed forwards, throwing her arms around Nefertimon’s neck and feeling the warm jewellery press against her skin.

“You’re beautiful!”

“I feel powerful!” she purred.

Behind them Patamon wrapped himself in his own evolution, and when the nimbus of light shattered he was a fine stallion. Two large wings had sprouted from his back, like Nefertimon’s, but where hers were silver his were gold. Gleaming yellow-gold plate wrapped around his hooves and across his chest, decorated with intricate carvings and glittering gems. His face was protected by a golden helm and surrounded by a halo of white-gold hair. Two small orange bat-like ears emerged from his temples, similar to Patamon’s but half the size, and the orange fur of his muzzle gave way to cream at his stomach and down on to his legs.

“Pegasusmon, flying hope!” he introduced with a flick of his white-gold tail. With practiced ease Takeru sprang on to Pegasusmon’s back and strapped his staff across the armoured saddle. Hikari found a similar groove along Nerfertimon’s back, just the right size for her bow. She eyed her partner warily; she was a good climber, but Nefertimon’s armour didn’t exactly have all that many places to hold on to and it was too high for her to jump. She was grateful when Nefertimon dipped her head and extended her foreleg for Hikari to clamber up, and after allowing Hikari a moment to get settled she glanced back over her shoulder.

“Ready?” she asked. Hikari’s heart was thundering in her ears as she met her partner’s gaze and nodded.

Nefertimon’s powerful legs pushed off the ground with such force that Hikari almost left her stomach behind. She pressed her face in to her partner’s neck – unable to breathe as the roaring wind ripped the breath from her lungs. Her heart stopped, her head began to spin, and then Nefertimon was levelling out. Hikari’s heart restarted with a painful jolt as she slowly straightened, gulping in a deep breath of cool air. The great mouth of the cavern below was no bigger than Hikari’s thumb now, and the thought of being so high above the ground was both exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

Nefertimon hovered for a moment, keeping them balanced with great strokes of her large wings. Then without a word of warning she surged forwards, rolling and spiralling and looping through the air, testing her new form to its acrobatic limits. It stole the breath from Hikari’s lungs, and she flattened herself against the armour as she familiarised herself with Nefertimon’s smooth movements. There was no fear of falling, but it did take a minute or two to get used to the sensation of tilting this way and that, and to figure out how to breathe when the wind was whipping past her face. They’d flown together before, but sitting atop Nefertimon’s back was much different to hanging from Angewomon’s neck. Little by little she slowly sat up, her iron grip on the saddle lessening, and as Nefertimon twisted upside down in a loop Hikari spread her arms wide, squeezing tightly with her thighs and feeling the wind dance through her fingers. She let out a giddy scream and Nefertimon howled with her as they shot up and burst through the clouds. Droplets of water clung to her skin and she shivered, her breath coming in short gasps.

Pegasusmon broke through the clouds beside them and Takeru shook water from his hair as they caught up.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” he shouted. Hikari’s pounding heart was lodged in her throat, and it was all she could do to smile and nod. Takeru laughed and his grin widened. “C’mon, I’ll race you back to Jou’s camp!” Pegasusmon’s wings send a gust of wet wind whooshing towards them, catching Nefertimon off-guard and allowing him to disappear beneath the clouds. Hikari wiped the water off her cheeks with a giggle as a deep chuckle rumbled through Nefertimon’s chest.

“Oh he is asking for it,” she purred. “Hold on tight, this is a race I intend to win.” Hikari flattened herself against Nefertimon’s neck and let out a giddy scream as Nefertimon plummeted down through the clouds like a bullet.


They’d made short work of toppling the Dark Tower and freeing the small town of mismatched digimon that surrounded it. From there they’d followed directions to another tower nearby and they’d knocked that one over too. The destruction brought Taichi no closer to Hikari, but it did give him an opportunity to learn more about the kids who were taking up the mantle of Chosen Children.

Miyako, he quickly learned, was prone to whining and she seemed to have found the perfect pitch at which to do so that stripped Taichi of any sympathy he might have had for her. It reminded him of Mimi at times, but at least Mimi would occasionally give in. Miyako, on the other hand, seemed content to tell the world of her woes and would jump straight to loggerheads with anyone who might interrupt her (Daisuke frequently found himself in the firing range, though he expertly gave as good as he got, leading to several heated arguments between the pair while their partners watched on in despair). Taichi had come close to snapping at her more than once, and it was Sora’s patience and Hawkmon’s level-headedness that helped him keep his temper in check.

Iori was completely the opposite; the quiet boy rarely spoke, but when he did he sounded wise beyond his years. Taichi wasn’t sure which he found less ominous; the eerie silence or the ominous nuggets of wisdom and patience that seemed to emerge right when Taich least expected them. Armadimon plodded along merrily at his partner’s side, smiling and keeping up a low monologue as they passed things he found interesting, like a particularly large tree or a bulbous rock that was shaped like his shell.

In fact, the only one Taichi felt he understood was Daisuke. He watched the boy take the lead, making the first move and dragging the others along behind him with a bravado that never faltered. Then, when all was said and done, he moved on to their next objective with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. It reminded Taichi so much of his younger self that he wanted to smile and punch Daisuke at the same time (looking back, it was no wonder Yamato had given him so many bruises).

They were in the process of destroying a third tower when Taichi heard something from behind. He frowned and turned, peering in to the sun as his ears picked out a distant thwump-thwump-thwump – like several large drums beating out of time. A shadow was forming in the sky, silhouetted by blinding white clouds, and as it drew closer it became several smaller shadows bound together by thick ropes. Morbid curiosity kept him rooted to the spot as the shapes grew closer, dropping steadily until there was no mistaking their target.

“Taichi?” He heard Sora murmured. She laced her fingers with his as she fell in beside him, and he felt her stiffen as the shadows grew close enough to be recognisable.

“Is that…” she asked in a horrified whisper. Taichi nodded. His heart leapt to his throat as his digivice shivered at his hip, but something was wrong. MetalGreymon’s skin was cold and blue, and the tufts of hair that stuck out from below his helm were blood red instead of their usual orange.

And yet there was no mistaking that this was Taichi’s partner; there was a sure fire certainty pounding through his veins as the Airdramon above released the ropes that held him in the air. He dropped to the ground like a stone, kicking up clouds of dust as he landed with an earth-shuddering THUD, and as the air cleared Taichi spied the thick black spiral wrapped around his partner’s arm.

“MetalGreymon!” he roared. His partner’s eyes flashed red and Taichi’s stomach twisted as a sinister cackle echoed overhead. One of the Airdramon remained, and as it sank towards them Taichi saw the figure of a boy standing atop the digimon’s shoulder.

“An unexpected reunion,” the boy sneered through a smirk. “How quaint. It’s a shame that MetalGreymon doesn’t remember you, because he remembers nothing that I don’t allow him to.” Taichi didn’t need Daisuke’s passionate descriptions to know that this was the Kaiser; the boy’s arrogance and the flamboyance of his gold-trimmed cape told him everything he needed to know.

“What have you done to him?!” Taichi roared. The Kaiser chuckled and flexed his fingers.

“Now, now,” he mocked, “temper, temper. Or do I have to tame you too?”

“Don’t worry, Taichi, I got it!” Daisuke cried. “Fladramon, go get ‘em!” The Kaiser arched an eyebrow and his lips curled in to a smirk.

“Oh I don’t think so,” he hissed. “MetalGreymon – attack!”

MetalGreymon gave a single nod before stomping closer, tossing his head back with a wordless roar that made Taichi’s blood run cold. Sora gripped Taichi’s hand with both of hers as Fladramon surged forward with fire on his knuckles.

“Flame fist!” The attack splashed harmlessly across MetalGreymon’s plated chest and Fladramon faltered. Holsmon swooped in close behind, releasing a powerful gust of wind that barely ruffled the tufts of crimson hair around MetalGreymon’s helm. Digmon sent two gleaming silver drills spiralling through the air, and MetalGreymon’s armoured claw batted them away like fruit flies. His eyes flashed and his lips pulled back in a snarl as he widened his stance, planting each foot firmly in the dust. The silver panels across his chest opened with a hiss and two small pairs of eyes peered out from within. Taichi had only a moment to recognise the grinning missiles before they launched.

“Get down!” He shoved Sora out of the way before leaping towards Daisuke and tackling him away from the attack. The blast threw them back several feet and Taichi groaned as his cheek grazed the dirt. He rolled to his knees and scrubbed dust from his eyes before quickly glancing to the others. Iori and Miyako were still some distance away, safe enough from the attack. Koushiro was helping Sora to her feet while Daisuke was rubbing at his side with a grimace (though it was nothing worse than what he’d experienced on the soccer field).

“We need to get rid of the Dark Ring,” said Miyako. Koushiro shook his head.

“That’s not just any Dark Ring,” he countered. “MetalGreymon is a perfect-level digimon; whatever that thing is on its arm, I think it’s stronger than the Dark Rings.” The Kaiser cackled.

“Not as dumb as you look,” he taunted. Taichi pushed himself back to his feet with a scowl.

“Whatever it is, we need to destroy it,” Taichi snapped.

“If we could keep him still then Digmon’s drills could strip it right off!” Miyako exclaimed. The Kaiser laughed and Taichi clenched his fists, determined to ignore him.

“Great, but how do we hold him still long enough?” Daisuke growled, his eyes fixed on the fight. Fladramon was taking most of the heat, though what few attacks he could fire off splashed harmlessly against MetalGreymon’s armour. A silver drill grazed MetalGreymon’s thigh and he backhanded Digmon into the dirt. Taichi’s heart skipped a painful beat.

“Allow me to try,” Holsmon boomed as he swooped overhead. He barrelled towards MetalGreymon and spread his wings wide, hovering at eye level to draw MetalGreymon’s attention. “Eagle Eye!” His eyes flashed a deep, fiery red and two bright lasers lanced towards MetalGreymon’s helm. He turned his head at the last second and the beams struck his jaw. He threw his head back and roared in to the clouds, and Taichi felt his knees tremble.

It’s for the best, Agumon, he thought, gritting his teeth to keep from screaming with his partner. The ache in his chest was growing worse, and he found himself clutching at Sora for strength. We’re only trying to help.

MetalGreymon slowly ground to a halt and his roar died away, though his mouth still hung open as he glared up at the sky. It was as though he had been frozen – stunned, almost – and the digimon hovered nervously around him, waiting to see what would happen next. Taichi’s breath caught in his throat and as the whole world seemed to wait with baited breath; even the Kaiser had stopped cackling.

MetalGreymon jerked and snapped his jaw shut with an angry huff, shaking his head and stomping his feet before releasing several giant fireballs at Holsmon’s retreating back. He dodged all but one which singed his tail feathers and sent him veering off-course.

“Holsmon!” Miyako screamed.

“Miyako, stop!” Sora cried, reaching out to grab her wrist before she could run to her partner. Holsmon had quickly regained his balance and had narrowly avoided colliding with the ground, though it seemed to take a great effort for him to return to the air. Miyako’s eyes never left her partner as Sora let go of her arm. “Don’t get too close to the fight – it’s too dangerous.” Miyako nodded, and she curled her fingers in to fists as she watched Holsmon disappear up into the clouds.

“We need to do that again,” Taichi ordered. “That attack stunned MetalGreymon. If we can freeze him again, maybe we can get Digmon to attack the spiral.”

“But that’s too high for Digmon to jump,” Iori said softly, his eyes fixed on MetalGreymon as he took another swing at Digmon (this time Digmon was prepared, and he leapt back just in time to avoid another pummelling).

“What if we try and knock him down first?” Daisuke suggested. “If we can get him on his knees and then freeze him, Digmon’d have a chance, right?” Taichi clenched his teeth and he felt Sora give his hand another squeeze. He met Daisuke’s gaze and nodded firmly.

“Whatever it takes.”

The next time Holsmon broke from the clouds Miyako screamed his name and waved him down. He swept close enough for her to explain the plan before returning to the fray where Digmon and Fladramon were beginning to tire. It was to be expected, really – they had a fraction of the strength and experience of MetalGreymon even before whatever the Kaiser had done to him – but with every passing minute the hope of freeing MetalGreymon from the Kaiser’s clutches slipped a little further away and Taichi found himself praying for some kind of miracle.

Fladramon made several small attacks to keep MetalGreymon’s attention while Digmon worried the ground at his feet, causing cracks and fissures and chunks of dirt designed to make MetalGreymon stumble. Holsmon flew around MetalGreymon’s head like a persistent fly, and whenever MetalGreymon became distracted by Digmon Holsmon would swoop in to distract him. When the ground was suitably churned Holsmon began buffeting MetalGreymon with blasts of wind, but each time MetalGreymon would plant his feet and hunker down until the gust had passed. He did not fall, and Taichi couldn’t help but feel a flicker of pride beneath a crushing wave of despair.

“It’s not working!” Miyako wailed.

“If we can’t bring the ring to Digmon, perhaps we can take Digmon to the ring,” Koushiro suggested. “Could Holsmon lift him?” Miyako’s face paled and she turned to Koushiro.

“I… I don’t know,” she whimpered

“We have to try,” Iori said firmly. Miyako hesitated before nodding, and Iori called to his partner who quickly dropped back.

“This guy sure packs a punch!” Digmon wheezed as he dropped to one knee, breathing heavily. “Do we got ourselves a plan of action, partner?”

Digmon was just as dubious as Miyako, it seemed, but he took Iori’s instructions back to the others nonetheless. Fladramon doubled down on his attacks while Holsmon scooped Digmon off the ground. It was a clear struggle, but after skimming the ground for several seconds Holsmon managed to climb with Digmon in his talons.

It all happened at once. Fladramon jumped high and barraged MetalGreymon’s face with bursts of fire, intent on distracting him long enough for Holsmon and Digmon to close in. The panels on MetalGreymon’s chest were sliding open as Digmon’s drills latched on to the spiral, and the attack made MetalGreymon roar. He jerked away from the attack, arms flailing wildly as he stumbled backwards. His foot got stuck in a large fissure and he slowly tilted backwards as the missiles were launched from his chest. One found its way in to Fladramon’s side, knocking him backwards in an explosion of fire and smoke, while the other arced high in to the air before twisting to set its beady eyes upon a new target.

Taichi’s heart pounded in his ears.

“MOVE!”

Sora let go of Taichi’s hand as she dove for Miyako, grabbing the girl’s wrist and pulling her back. The missile was drawing closer. Koushiro was running behind Iori whilst Sora was dragging Miyako aside. Daisuke was rooted to the ground, his eyes wide, and Taichi grit his teeth and shouldered him out of the way.

The world was white-hot, awash with flame and fire and the smell of singed cotton and Taichi was weightless, floating high in to the air. Someone was screaming. It might have been him, though he felt like his mouth was burning. Something slammed in to his shoulder and then he was skidding along the ground. Seared skin on his cheek tightened painfully as the ground tore through the shoulder of his blazer and bit in to his shirt and his skin as he slid to a stop some feet away. He rolled on to his knees and grit his teeth against the pain as he squinted through the flames. MetalGreymon was glowing, and for a minute Taichi dared to hope that they’d won until he heard the Kaiser’s panicked screams.

“No! Retreat! Retreat!” He punctured the order with a sharp crack of his whip that pierced through the ringing in Taichi’s ears, and slowly Taichi blinked the world back in to focus. The light around MetalGreymon was starting to fade, but instead of growing smaller he had grown bigger, and when the light faded Taichi felt his heart stop as he beheld SkullGreymon in his terrifying, bone-white glory.

He looked just as fierce as Taichi remembered, and he felt his shame wash over him anew as SkullGreymon thrashed against the incoming Aidramon. Despite his efforts the Airdramon looped thick ropes around his skeletal limbs and quickly hoisted him in to the air, dragging him back in to the clouds.

The Kaiser dropped heavily to the ground and stormed towards Taichi, his face pulled back in a furious snarl. Dark boots kicked a storm of sand in to Taichi’s face and Taichi turned away, spluttering and scrubbing at his eyes.

“You imbecile!” the Kaiser roared, and this time the kick landed between Taichi’s shoulderblades. Taichi screamed and rolled away from the attack, barely able to make out the boy’s silhouette through a blinding curtain of tears and sand. “You lost me my servant! I had hoped to wait until my experiments were complete, but I suppose there’s no time like the present. Let’s see how you fare against the power of a Dark Spiral!” He reached beneath his cloak and withdrew a gleaming black spiral which he threw towards Taichi who scrambled backwards-

The stone tablet came from nowhere, zipping through the air and striking the Kaiser’s hand. The spiral clattered to the ground some distance away and the Kaiser clutched his bloodied hand to his chest with a curse as a figure dropped down between them. Taichi was blinded by a light that erupted from the crest beneath his shirt as hands slowly pulled him back and helped him to his feet.

“Don’t you touch him!” a voice hissed. A girl’s voice; a voice that made Taichi’s heart leap to his throat. Something creaked like bending wood as the hands slowly helped Taichi to his feet.

“Taichi, are you okay?” Taichi squinted at the figure beside him, able to make out shaggy blonde hair and wide blue eyes.

“Takeru?” he breathed. Takeru nodded as the Kaiser chuckled.

“I was wondering where you’d gotten to,” the boy hissed. Taichi rubbed the last of the sand and tears from his eyes with the heel of his hand before peering at the Kaiser and the girl who stood before him, glaring at the Kaiser down the shaft of an arrow. He took a step towards her and she released her bow, piercing the ground at his feet. The Kaiser stopped and Hikari quickly loaded another from the quiver on her back.

“Next time I won’t miss,” she threatened. Shadows swooped overhead as a golden horse and a silver sphinx dropped from the sky, their golden eyes fixed on the Kaiser. “Give up. You’re surrounded.” The Kaiser smirked and straightened with a sinister chuckle.

“Will you ever learn?” he mocked. His fingers snapped an and Airdramon dropped down from the sky. He leapt impossibly high, and the Aidramon swooped beneath him. Hikari followed him with the tip of her arrow, but before she could take her shot he was barely a shadow in the sky and she slowly let the tip sag towards the ground with an angry sigh.

“Hikari.”

Her name slipped from his lips, so quiet that he wondered if she’d heard him at all. But then he saw her spine stiffen and saw her shoulders tremble, and when she turned towards him he felt his heart stop. Her face was longer and thinner, and yet she was every bit the little eight-year-old sister he had left behind.

She cast the bow and arrow aside and barrelled in to his chest, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face in his blazer. He wrapped his arms around her, ignoring the pain that lanced through his arm; he’d take it ten times over just to have his sister close again. Before long they were both crying, and he pressed his face in to her hair and squeezed, afraid to let her go.

He didn’t know how long Sora had been waiting to approach them, but when Hikari finally noticed she pulled herself from Taichi’s arms and fell in to Sora’s, laughing and smiling. Sora fussed over her like a mother hen, smoothing her hair and rearranging her scarf, and when Hikari grew uncomfortable with the attention she turned back to Taichi to hug him again (Sora, meanwhile, moved on to Takeru and gave him much the same treatment which he accepted with a beaming smile). This time Taichi couldn’t contain a small groan as Hikari jostled his shoulder and she sprang back, her eyes quickly landing on the tattered sleeve of his blazer.

“You’re hurt!” she gasped. She reached out a hand to brush his jaw and he winced at the trail of fire she left behind. The skin on his neck was growing tight, and once he noticed it he couldn’t ignore the way it burned. Hikari’s eyes were glistening, but she blinked and smiled and took his hand. “We should get you to Jou, he’ll know what to do.”

 

Chapter Text


BRUISES AND BROTHERS


“Well other than a few bumps and bruises, you’re fine. You should probably get some antiseptic on that shoulder when you get home though – I’m all out, I’m afraid.” Taichi nodded and poked at the singed shoulder of his shirt. His blazer had taken the worst of the hit; one of the sleeves had been torn apart at the seams, left hanging by several stray threads that Sora was trying to stitch back together with one of Jou’s needles and a thin piece of twine.

The atmosphere around the campfire reminded Takeru of old times as they sat in the afternoon sun. Miyako and Iori were huddled near their digimon, each talking animatedly to their partners. Daisuke sat close to Hikari with Veemon perched on his shoulders, whilst Hikari was staring at her brother with Tailmon curled at her feet (Takeru thought she might have been sleeping until he noticed how her blue eyes would crack open every now and then to watch Daisuke closely). Koushiro sat on Jou’s other side, furiously typing on his laptop while Tentomon sipped a Koushiro’s cool tea. Sora sat to Takeru’s left, watching Taichi and Jou closely, while a morose Gabumon had settled in on Takeru’s other side. It still hurt to see Gabumon without Yamato, especially given how hard he was working to try and put on a brave face about it, and Patamon had curled himself up in Gabumon’s lap to try and offer some sort of comfort.

“So, are you guys lookin’ forward to comin’ home?” Daisuke asked eagerly, although Takeru was left with a distinct feeling that ‘you guys’ was pointed more towards Hikari than anyone else. The uneasy silence that followed the question made Takeru swallow his enthusiasm. He glanced first to Jou who was staring in to the small fire with a tight, unreadable expression, and then to Hikari who was picking at the threadbare hem of her tunic. She glanced up at her brother and offered him a warm smile which he easily returned, but when Hikari turned away Taichi’s face fell and he turned to Sora who gave him a sad sort of smile.

“I can’t,” Takeru heard himself announce suddenly. He felt the others turn to stare at him and he swallowed thickly. The glimmer of relief that flickered over Hikari and Jou’s expressions lit a fire beneath Takeru’s resolve and he sat up a little taller. “I’m not going home with Yamato.” Gabumon lifted his head and slipped his large paw in to Takeru’s hands with a tearful smile.

“Hikari?” Daisuke asked. Hikari’s shoulders stiffened – as did Taichi’s. The two glanced at each other, and Takeru couldn’t tell who was more nervous.

“I… I don’t want to go home without Yamato either,” she said, watching Taichi carefully. When Taichi didn’t object she straightened a little. “We should all go home together.”

“The way we should have,” Jou agreed with a slow nod. Hikari nodded too and lowered her gaze to Tailmon who was sitting up now and watching Hikari carefully. Takeru glanced to Taichi, surprised to find that he looked – if anything – relieved. (Daisuke, on the other hand, was openly pouting at their decision.)

“You can all stay here with us!” Gomamon exclaimed brightly. “Now that we’re all together again, there’s no sense in splitting up!” Daisuke brightened at that, but Sora shook her head.

“We can’t all stay,” she said, her voice sombre. “The rest of us have to go back and pretend like everything is normal. People will get suspicious if we all go missing too.”  Daisuke’s shoulders slumped again while Miyako looked a little relieved (Takeru glanced to Iori, but the boy gave no indication of what he was feeling).

“We don’t even know where Yamato is or how to get to him,” Koushiro murmured without looking up from his laptop. “It could take weeks or even months before we-” Sora elbowed him sharply and he looked up, confused. She tilted her head towards Takeru and suddenly Koushiro’s cheeks flushed. “But I-I’m sure it won’t take that long. We’ll all be back together before you know it!” Takeru tried to smile, but judging by the way Sora’s face fell it seemed that he hadn’t quite hit the mark and he quickly abandoned the attempt.

“The Kaiser used to have some holding cells north of here where he’s been keeping captured digimon,” Takeru offered. Hikari turned to him with a confused frown and he shrugged a little. “They used to be there, but it looks like they’ve disappeared. I don’t think that was his full base, but it might be somewhere to start looking around for clues.” Koushiro’s face lit up and he nodded eagerly.

“I’ll see if I can find anything. I think I’m close to being able to make some kind of map, so I’ll see if there’s anything that crops up nearby.

Their goodbye was subdued and tense. Hikari seemed somewhat lost in thought when Taichi approached her, but her surprised jump turned in to a tight hug that was eagerly returned. Takeru watched them with no small amount of jealousy before turning away to pull himself together. He gripped Gabumon’s paw tighter and was grateful when Gabumon pressed himself against Takeru’s leg. Patamon was about to settle in to Takeru’s lap when Sora pulled him gently to his feet and gave him a tight hug; she wasn’t Yamato, but Takeru held on tight all the same. Daisuke, Miyako and Iori all offered him awkward goodbyes before Taichi and Koushiro brought up the rear, both promising to do whatever they could to get Yamato back as soon as possible.

Dusk was settling over the camp by the time the others disappeared in to the trees, and once they were gone Jou quickly started handing out tasks for the evening. Hikari and Tailmon were asked to fetch more water from the nearby river, while Takeru and Patamon were asked to collect, boil and dry the used bandages. He supposed he should have been suspicious when he saw Hikari leaving with her bow and a quiver full of arrows, but then Patamon was dumping another armful of soggy bandages in to the woven basket in Takeru’s arms and he was soon distracted. Most of the injured digimon were still nervous around Takeru, and it took a conscious effort for him to make his gestures as slow and steady as possible to avoid startling them.

“Most of these digimon were hurt by the Kaiser,” Jou murmured after a particularly nervous Pagumon hurried away from Takeru to hide in a nearby shrub. Jou sighed and took off his glasses, polishing them on his shirt. “I think it does them good to see us helping. It shows them that we’re not all like the Kaiser.” Takeru nodded, and Jou took the basket of soaked rags from his arms and asked him to set about making sure everyone had clean bedding for the night which took them all the way through to dinner, where Jou tasked them with delivering slates of hot food to the digimon who were too big or too injured to eat in the main hut.

It was only later, when Takeru was washing up in the nearby river in the last fading rays of daylight, that he realised Hikari and Tailmon still hadn’t returned. He straightened slowly, shivering as a cool breeze danced across the back of his neck. There was no real need to worry – the pair had survived years in the Digital World alone together, after all – but something was churning in Takeru’s stomach. He quickly gathered the last of the pots and pans and returned them to the main tent before finding Patamon who had been lounging beside the fire.

“Are you okay, Takeru?” he asked, his ears twitching nervously as Takeru perched on the tree stump beside him.

“Hikari and Tailmon haven’t come back yet,” he said in a low voice. Patamon lifted his head and peered in to the darkness, his little nose twitching.

“It is late…” Patamon murmured “Maybe they were tired and went straight to bed? Didn’t Jou say they had their own small hut on the outskirts of camp?” Jou had; he’d pointed it out when Takeru had been gathering the blankets and bedding. Takeru scooped Patamon in to his arms and picked his way through the camp towards it. The hut was dark and Takeru hovered by the doorway, his eyes fixed on the cloth that had been draped across the entrance like a door.

“Hikari?” he called softly. “Tailmon?” No answer. He rapped his knuckles lightly against the doorframe, and when that too didn’t receive an answer he pulled the cloth back a little.

The hut was empty aside from a pile of blankets that were laid out along the far side for a bed. Takeru stepped back outside and glanced to the fire pit; the hollow was filled with lumps of charred wood, and when he pressed his hand to them they were cold as stone. Nobody had been there recently. Takeru knelt slowly and Patamon wriggled out of his arms, blinking his large blue eyes up at Takeru.

“What about your D-Terminal?” he suggested. “You could message her on there and ask if she’s okay!” Takeru’s eyes widened and he let out a surprised bark of laughter.

“Of course!” he breathed. They made their way back in to the big hut where Takeru retrieved the D-Terminal from beside his makeshift pillow. He dropped down on to the pile of blankets and Patamon crawled in to his lap as he flipped through the contacts until he found her name.

It had been a long time since he’d typed anything. Or written at all. He frowned, his fingers hovering over the keys as he tried to remember the last thing he’d written-

Ah. His letter to Gennai before answering Elecmon’s call for help. That would have been it. (He’d tried to explain why he’d disobeyed Gennai’s orders to stay put, but he figured he hadn’t done a good enough job to avoid upsetting Gennai because when he tried to return to Gennai’s underwater house some months later, the lake hadn’t parted for him no matter how many times he plunged his digivice beneath the surface).

FROM: Takeru
                TO: Hikari
               
Hi Hikari! It’s Takeru. It’s getting late and I wanted to make sure you were okay.

He deliberated over the message for several long minutes before showing it to Patamon who read it several times before nodding. He sent the message on its way and stood, slipping the D-3 in to his pocket. He scanned the camp, wondering if perhaps they had just missed each other. It was a fairly big camp, after all, with lots of huts and narrow winding paths between them. He unclipped his D-3 from his belt and glanced down at the screen. He saw his green dot in the centre, and Jou’s blue-white dot busying around the bottom left corner, but no sign of Hikari. Wherever she was, she was a fair distance from the camp.

Takeru pursed his lips and drummed his fingers against his D-Terminal. There really was no reason to worry – Hikari and Tailmon could take care of themselves – but there was something about her disappearance coupled with her lack of response that left his stomach churning. He wandered aimlessly around the camp a while, keeping one eye on his D-3, but as more and more digimon began to turn in for the night with no sign of Tailmon and Hikari, Takeru found that he couldn’t stay put any longer.

And so they went to Jou. They waited for him to finish up with his last patient of the evening, and when they explained that Hikari and Tailmon still hadn’t returned Jou sighed and cleaned his glasses on his shirt.

“I was hoping I’d just missed them,” he sighed.

“I’m sure they can’t be far, Jou!” Gomamon said brightly. “Maybe now that Tailmon can evolve to Nefertimon they just went out for a fly and lost track of the time.” Jou’s expression fell a little.

“I didn’t even think of that,” he murmured, glancing at his partner. “What if they got lost?” Gomamon shook his head and waved his paw.

“They found us twice already, I’m sure they’re not lost.”

“Patamon and I will head out and look for them,” Takeru said with a bright grin. “Pegasusmon’s a fast flyer, and we’ll be able to see more from the air.” Jou pursed his lips and stared at Takeru, studying him for a long moment before nodding slowly.

“All right,” he conceded, “but don’t stay out too late and don’t go too far.”

“We won’t!” Patamon chirped.

“If Hikari gets back before us, ask her to send us a message and we’ll come right back,” Takeru added. Jou nodded, his lips pressed together in a thin line.

“Just… be careful, okay? I don’t like the idea of sending you two off alone…” Takeru gave Jou his most reassuring smile.

“We’ll be fine, I promise.”

“We’ll be back before you know it!” Patamon added brightly.


Taichi frowned as he stared out towards Rainbow Bridge, as though it somehow held the answers to all his problems. It had yet to answer him in the silent hour he had stood before it. The last of the sun’s rays were finally fading, and the lights of the bridge were spilling pools of red, white and green that blurred together in the misty rain.

She had changed. Of course she had – it was stupid to expect that she wouldn’t have – but somehow seeing it made it so much more real. Her slender arms had squeezed tighter than he had thought possible, and he had melted in to her embrace the way he hadn’t melted in years; not even when Sora held him close. As he stared out at the bridge, he felt the regret bubbling in his stomach. He should have tried harder to convince her to come home, consequences be damned. If she could sooth his worried mind with a single embrace, then imagine what she could do for their parents-

Certainty’s iron grip clenched his heart and he gripped the railings a little tighter. He couldn’t bear to imagine her face as she walked through the door to find their mother lost to the television, drowning in a cocktail of medications that were supposed to keep her above water. Or to see her deal with their father’s absence and the knowledge that he would rather spend the night in a capsule on the other side of Tokyo then spend the night in an apartment haunted by memories. He sighed, and let his head loll forwards. Perhaps Hikari was better off in the Digital World after all.

(Perhaps he might even join her.)

A hand on his shoulder made him jump, and with a startled curse on his lips he span wildly on his heel. Natsuko laughed a little, though her sharp eyes were studying him carefully as she stepped towards him, bringing him under the shelter of her umbrella.

“Did I interrupt a deep thought?” she asked with a gentle smile, and Taichi was suddenly struck by how much she resembled her son (or, rather, how much Takeru resembled her, he supposed). Taichi scratched the back of his neck and tried to smile.

“Nah… it was nothing,” he said with a strained grin that quickly faded as Natsuko tilted her head and fixed him with a look that was so… motherly.

“Which is why you’re out here, alone in the rain,” she challenged. He ducked his head and let out an awkward chuckle, and something shifted behind her eyes. “Do you want to talk about it?” He forced a smile before stuffing his hands in to his pockets and shaking his head. Natsuko clicked her tongue and ran a hand through his damp hair causing rivers of rainwater to run down his face. “Well at least let me give you a hot dinner; you’ll catch a cold if you stay out here. Your mother will be fine,” she added as he began to object. “I stopped in to see her on my way home from work. We had some extra soup which I thought she might enjoy. Judging by your fridge I’m guessing you haven’t booked that cooking course yet.” Taichi grinned at the jab.

“I haven’t gotten ‘round to it yet. Bu-u-ut I can cook rice now,” he boasted. Natsuko arched an eyebrow.

“In the rice cooker?”

“In the microwave. It comes in these little pouches – you just tear off the top and throw it in!” Natsuko sighed through a smile.

“You could just let me teach you.”

“You’re busy enough without taking care of me. We’ll get by; we made it this far.”

Being slightly taller than Natsuko, Taichi took the umbrella as they walked back to the apartment amidst a pleasant stream of small-talk. Natsuko offered tidbits from her recent articles and investigations sprinkled with questions. A slow news week had caused her article about toilet paper to be featured above the fold, and how was he getting on at school? Her boss had just gotten a new dog and now they were running a ‘cutest pet’ competition next month, and was he still enjoying being a soccer coach? Her colleague was running a new intern initiative during the autumn holidays, and did he have anything new he wanted to tell her?

Before long they were tucking their shoes in to the rack and draping dripping coats over the rail above a small heater. The rain had soaked through Taichi’s blazer, soaking his shirt, and when Natsuko motioned for him to take the wet clothes off he heard something clatter to the floor.

Taichi froze, his eyes upon Natsuko as she picked up the digivice, holding it like a viper poised to strike. She studied it for several agonising seconds before lifting her gaze to Taichi, and it was hard to ignore how the colour had faded from her face.

“I’m – I’m sorry – I-” His tongue was too big for his mouth and his words were sticking in his throat like tar. He fought his way out of his damp shirt, but by the time he was free Natsuko had already made her way in to the kitchen. He cursed under his breath and snatched up his blazer, straightening his undershirt as he hurried after her. He stumbled over a thousand apologies but Natsko – who had taken a seat at the table with the digivice infront of her – held her a hand for silence.

Mouth still limp from his last half-formed ‘sorry’, Taichi slipped in to the seat across from her and waited. Slowly Natsuko’s colour returned, and the shock and pain that had flashed across her face were quickly schooled behind calm indifference (her Reporter Face, she called it). The longer she stared at the digivice, the thinner her lips became until they were drawn in to a tight line across her pallid features.

“I had a meeting last week,” Natsuko began suddenly, and the sound of her voice made Taichi jump. “It should have been for a new column at the newspaper, but the writer never showed up. So I just sat and finished my coffee and just watched the world go by for a while. I was about to leave when suddenly a young boy walked in.” She paused, slowly lifting her gaze until she was looking at Taichi again. “I thought he was you at first. Only at a glance, from the corner of my eye, but what drew me in was the… toy in his arms. Just seeing it… it looked so alive and it reminded me of… I thought…” The words hung in the air between them and Taichi felt his throat tighten at the hope burning in her eyes.

“We can go back to the Digital World.” Within the walls of his home, the statement might have caused some kind of explosion; his mother might have started to weep and scratch at her ears, unable to hear the words, whilst his father comforted her and berated Taichi in the same breath, much as he used to do when Taichi was younger. Natsuko on the other hand took a moment to pause and consider the information before finally letting out a slow, shaky breath.

“And… are they… have you…” Taichi nodded slowly.

“We… Takeru’s safe,” he began. Natsuko hiccupped, her hands flying to her mouth as her eyes began to water. “And we’ve seen Yamato. We’re… we’re just working out how to get to him.”

“Can they come back?” she asked. “You can go to them, but can they come to us?”

“Yes – we think so,” he added. “Takeru didn’t want to come back without Yamato.” Natsuko barked another dry sob as a tear slid down her cheek. She tried to compose herself, folding her hands neatly on the table, but she quickly buckled and the tears began to fall in earnest. She reached out, gripping Taichi’s hands in hers.

“And the others, your sister and Jou, they’re okay too?”

“They’re fine. They want to resc- to get to Yamato, too.” For once, his quickly-changed choice of words went unnoticed as Natsuko squeezed his hands firmly.

“They’re all right,” she whispered. “We always knew they would be. We always said that we would see them again.” She laughed again and Taichi couldn’t help it. Years of fear – of trying to decide if finding a dead sister was better than finding no sister at all – rose in his throat as a strange noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. Natsuko was by his side in a heartbeat, gathering him in to her arms and holding him close as they sobbed and laughed together.

The sound of the door made them pull apart, each wiping away tears as Hiroaki took off his shoes and slumped in to the kitchen. Taichi tried to smile, but it did little to keep Hiroaki from glancing between them with a concerned frown. Natsuki rushed forwards, throwing herself in to Hiroaki’s arms as the news came out in a sudden rush. In an instant his tired face passed through surprise, concern, fear and hope before he looked to Taichi for confirmation. Taichi could only nod wordlessly.

They were perhaps the only ones to come through the last four years with more than they’d had before. Whilst the loss of Hikari had torn a rift between Taichi’s parents, the loss of both of their sons had brought Natsuko and Hiroaki back to each other. Through their shared grief they had found what they had needed most, each taking what the other had to give. They had never remarried (and Taichi thought perhaps they never would), but when Natsuko’s secondment to Kyoto had ended unexpectedly little over a year ago, leaving her needing to move back to Tokyo at short notice, Hiroaki had suggested she move in with him until she found her feet. Nearly three years later, and she still hadn’t moved out.

When they hadn’t been helping each other, they’d been helping Taichi. They’d been frequent visitors to the apartment in the early days, trying to talk Susumu and Yuuko away from the abyss they were inching towards. When Natsuko returned from Kyoto to find the situation had spiralled significantly, she and Hiroaki had started showing up with flasks of soup or offering to drive Taichi to the big supermarket for a monthly grocery haul of things he couldn’t buy at the local convenience.

As promised, Natsuko served Taichi a hot dinner of thick broth – a French recipe, she announced as she set the bowl before him – and it took all of Taichi’s reserve not to eat like a starved dog. Worrying about Hikari, Agumon and the Digital World had taken up so much of his energy that what little food he had been able to cook had mostly gone uneaten.

Hiroaki sat across from him while he ate, answering e-mails on his laptop and occasionally surfacing to ask Taichi questions about Yamato and Takeru. Some were easier to answer than others, and some – especially those about Yamato – required carefully crafted white lies that Taichi wasn’t entirely sure he got away with. When Hiroaki asked if he was excited for Hikari to finally come home, Taichi took a large spoonful of broth that seared his tongue, and he was grateful when Natsuko passed him a glass of cool water and moved the conversation along to Daisuke and the other new Chosen.

When the rain continued to pour, Hiroaki insisted on giving Taichi a lift home. Natsuko pulled his shirt and blazer from the dryer (she ran her fingers over the hasty patch-job Sora had done on his shoulder, but said nothing as she handed the clothes back to Taichi. Hiroaki leant him an old weather jacket from the TV station that had seen better days, and together they made a break for the car. It was raining heavily now, and traffic was so heavy that they practically crawled the three blocks to Taichi’s apartment building. It might not have been fast, but at least it was dry (and Hiroaki’s choice of music on the radio wasn’t all that bad).

After driving around the block twice, Hiroaki finally managed to find a space near the front of the building. He turned off the engine and Taichi eyed the rain warily. It would take him less than a minute to make it from Hiroaki’s car to the shelter of the building, but it would be long enough for him to get soaked through all over again. Hiroaki’s jacket was made for spring showers, not summer storms.

“It’s all right, y’know,” Hiroaki murmured. Taichi turned to him with a confused frown and Hiroaki offered him a reassuring smile. “To be scared about her coming home. A lot has changed while they’ve been away.” Taichi tried to smile, but it quickly fell flat. He sighed heavily and fiddled with the zipper.

“I know things will get better once she’s home,” he mumbled, “but… How can I bring her home to this?” Hiroaki reached out and patted Taichi’s knee softly.

“With your head held high,” he said firmly. “Taichi, what is happening to your parents is not your fault. You’ve done your very best by them, and you’ve done more than any child should ever have to do. You have done nothing wrong.” Taichi bit the inside of his cheek and turned his head away, watching two raindrops race down the window and Hiroaki patted his knee again.

“Try and ease her in to it,” he suggested. “It will be a lot to take in. I know it’s going to be difficult, but if you let her know what she’s facing before she comes home, it’ll make it easier. For both of you.” Taichi nodded a little.

The rain eased off, if only for a little while, and Taichi took it as as opportunity to bid Hiroaki goodbye and make a break for his building. He took the stairs slowly, thinking about the wisdom in Hiroaki’s words but unsure how he was going to put it in to practice. Of course it would make sense to prepare Hikari for what she was coming home to, but how would he even begin that conversation?

Hey, Hikari! Just a heads up for when you get home - mom’s practically comatose and dad’s not gonna be there!

He slid his key in to the lock and shook his head. He’d never been any good at handling bad news with any kind of sensitivity. His attempts often trailed in to awkward silences (or, worse, bad jokes that were supposed to break the ice but just came off as insensitive). Maybe he should ask Sora for some help; she had always been better at this sort of thing.

The apartment was dark and silent. Taichi slipped out of his shoes and flipped on a light, surprised to find his mother’s usual chair empty. Natsuko’s Thermos sat on the kitchen counter – untouched, judging by how heavy it was when Taichi moved it into the fridge. He shrugged his way out of his school jacket before slipping down the hall, pausing to listen at the bathroom door. Silence. He knocked lightly on his mother’s door, and when he didn’t receive an answer he carefully pulled it open. She was asleep in bed. He spied the glass of water beside the pill organiser, and he let out a sigh of relief when he saw one of the compartments was open and empty. One less thing for Taichi to worry about.

He busied himself in the lounge, unpacking the bags from their trip and loading up the washing machine ready for the morning. Then he took his bags and headed in to the bedroom, putting away the clothes his aunt had washed during their stay before stuffing his weekend bag back under his bed and collapsing heavily in to his desk chair. Miko mewled at him from the windowsill.

“What?” he sighed. Miko stood and stretched and yawned, her tail swishing from side to side as she jumped down on to his bed and trotted along his covers until she was standing on his desk, her golden eyes staring at him. He leant back in his chair and folded his arms. “What do you want?” Miko meowed again and padded closer, craning her neck to sniff at Taichi’s face and his arms. He reached out to scratch under her chin and she pulled back. Taichi rolled his eyes. “I know I’m not Hikari. She’ll be home… at some point, and you can go back to bugging her and leave me alone” Miko gave a derisive chirp before stalking back along the bed and curling up on the windowsill once more. Taichi closed his eyes and let his head loll back with a sigh. Once Hikari was home, she could go back to looking after her cat, Taichi could go back to ignoring Miko, and Miko could go back to camping out on Hikari’s pillow whenever Hikari wasn’t around. 

Except…

Taichi opened his eyes and sat up. Miko couldn’t go back to sleeping on Hikari’s pillow because Hikari didn’t have a pillow. Or a bed. Or pyjamas or clothes or a toothbrush… She wouldn’t even have a place to store what few belongings she did have; Taichi had sort of grown used to having a bedroom to himself. The bookshelf that used to be divided down the middle was now full to the brim with schoolbooks soccer memorabilia and other unsorted trinkets (“Junk,” Sora called it).

Perhaps it was just as well that Hikari had opted to stay in the Digital World, at least for the time being. Taichi would have to make room for her to come home. At the very least she needed somewhere to sleep. How much did beds cost? 100,000 yen? 200,000? And then there was everything else – clothes, shoes, underwear, toiletries, not to mention bags, coats, scarves and accessories… His thoughts drifted to his fathers’ emergency credit card stored in the kitchen drawer. Did it have a limit? How would they even pay it off?

Taichi’s head was spinning. Where was he even supposed to begin? There was an itch under his skin – a frenetic energy compelling him to just do something – and after scribbling down his thoughts in what was best described as word vomit, he started decluttering the bookshelf. Books were wedged in to nooks and crevices while trinkets and toys were swept in to a box and stuff under the bed where he rediscovered his old camping gear. The sleeping bag was old and a little musty, but nothing that a bit of airing out wouldn’t fix (he hoped). He opened it up and laid it out on the floor before tidying away laundry and clutter that littered the carpet.

He would eventually collapse in to bed somewhere around 3am. It was hardly worth going to bed now, given that he’d be up again in a few hours for school, but his eyelids were growing heavy and he was quickly becoming clumsy and uncoordinated. He stripped down to his boxers and undershirt and slipped in to bed, realising too late that he had left his bedroom light on.

He was asleep before he even thought to turn it off.


Lying on the floor with only his hands cradled behind his head, Yamato felt the Kaiser storming down the corridor towards him. The heavy boots rattled Yamato’s knuckles which the CLUMP-CLUMP-CLUMP of his raging footsteps rang off the walls, accompanied by a string of muttered curses that turned the air blue. Yamato closed his eyes with a sigh of relief; if the Kaiser was angry then that meant things hadn’t gone his way. He heard the Kaiser come to a halt outside his cell and he smirked.

“I thought you’d be happy to reunite me with my friends,” Yamato said idly. He opened one eye and tilted his head towards the Kaiser who stood by the cell bars, alone. “Or did they not want to come and play?”

In the blink of an eye the Kaiser was inside the cell and his hands were balled in Yamato’s shirt. He lifted Yamato off the ground with ease and slammed him against the wall. Yamato blinked away stars; the kid might have looked like a runt on the outside, but there was no denying that he was fast and strong. Impossibly so.

“One of these days,” the Kaiser growled, his black eyes burning with fury, “I will make you regret every word you have said to me.”

“One of these days.” He regretted the taunt even before the Kaiser had slammed him in to the wall again. Yamato’s vision was lost behind an explosion of stars as the Kaiser threw him across the floor. He slid in to the far wall with enough force to wind him; he rolled on to his knees, trying to catch his breath, but then the Kaiser was there again – his fists buried in Yamato’s shirt as he dragged him from the ground.

“I am the Kaiser!” the boy roared, his face inches from Yamato’s. “You do not mock me! You and your friends will rue the day you ever set foot in my world!”

Yamato tried to swing for him but the boy caught his fist easily. He tightened his grip around Yamato’s fingers until Yamato was left gasping, and just when he thought the boy might crush his hand completely he was shoved back to the ground. The Kaiser’s lips were curled in a furious sneer.

“You dare raise your hand to me?” he spat. “You are an insect. You’re all insects!” Yamato tried to stand but the Kaiser’s boot found his shoulder and he tumbled backwards, his head slamming against the wall as he fell. The Kaiser was reaching into is cloak, and a vein in his neck was throbbing with rage.

“I tire of your insolence,” he hissed. “If you cannot learn your place, then I must teach you.” He withdrew a spiral of thick, black metal. The object itself wasn’t particularly terrifying, but there was something about the smooth black surface that made Yamato’s stomach churn. He scrambled back, his head and his shoulder throbbing, but he had nowhere to go. He backed himself against the wall and the Kaiser’s furious snarl quickly shifted to a satisfied sneer as he held the spiral out towards Yamato.

“M-Master?”

WHAT?!”

A small digimon cowered in the doorway; green and worm-like. with pink claws and a purple mouth and two large blue eyes. The Kaiser turned towards it and it shrank back, its antenna drooping and its eyes wide and terrified.

“There’s a problem with the security systems,” the digimon warbled. “They all seem to be offline. I tried to bring them back online again but I think I just made it worse-”

“Idiot!” the Kaiser seethed. “You’ve probably just made it worse! Maybe I should put a ring on you to keep you from ruining my hard work!” He snapped is attention back to Yamato and sneered down his nose at him. “I’ll deal with you later.” He turned sharply on his heel with a flourish of his cloak and stormed away. Over his shoulder, he added: “Lock the door, Wormmon. I trust you can do that without messing up, at least.”

The pounding footsteps faded, silenced by the furious slamming of a heavy door, and then there was silence. Wormmon hovered in the doorway, looking down the hall after the Kaiser, though when Yamato tried to sit up the little digimon quickly turned his attention to him

“Please be careful,” he said softly. “I didn’t realise he was so angry. I’m sorry that he took it all out on you.” Yamato fixed the digimon with a strange look.

“You’re apologising?” he asked. “For him?” Wormmon ducked his head a little and nodded before scurrying out of sight. He returned a moment later, dragging a small satchel in his mouth. He pulled it in to the room and then nudged it towards Yamato before quickly scurrying out of reach.

“It’s not much, but it’s all I could manage on my own,” he said. “There are some bandages and some food a-and something to drink.” Yamato pulled the bag closer and peered inside; it was mostly junk food and juice pouches, but Yamato’s stomach rumbled hungrily.

“Why are you helping me?” he asked. Wormmon tapped his pincers together nervously.

“One day, K- the Kaiser is going to remember who he really is, and he’s going to be really, really sorry for everything he’s done,” Wormmon said quietly. His eyes were wide and watery as he lifted his gaze back to Yamato. “I’m just… I just want to help.” Yamato frowned and sat up a little higher, trying not to wince.

“Don’t suppose you’ll help me by letting me go?” Wormmon shuffled back and shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I wish I could, but he would get too angry. I took the security systems offline so that hopefully he’d be mad at me instead of you, but if I set you free then he would get really angry. Even angrier than he is now.” As if on cue a howl of rage echoed down the corridor and Wormmon shivered. His eyes flicked fearfully to the doorway as his antenna twitched nervously and Yamato felt his stomach twist.

“Maybe you should stay in here with me,” he offered. “You might be safer.” Wormmon made a strange noise that Yamato thought might have been a nervous sort of laugh as he shuffled back towards the doorway.

“I should go,” he muttered. “It won’t take him long to bring the security systems back online, and if I’m not there when he does then he might come back. You should rest – and eat the food. The chocolate is the best; it’ll make you feel better, I promise.” He shuffled back out in to the corridor and the bars of the cell door slid back in to place with a heavy slam. Wormmon bobbed his head one last time before hurrying back down the hallway and leaving Yamato alone.

He pulled the satchel closer and tipped the contents out onto the floor. Candy bars, juice pouches, jelly sweets… It reminded him of Takeru’s secret candy stash that he hid in Yamato’s room; Yamato would always make sure it was full on the rare weekends that Takeru came to visit.

His stomach twisted at the unexpected memory. Where was Takeru now? Still with Jou, he hoped. Safe. Yamato sighed and reached for the nearest bar – he’d never had a sweet tooth like Takeru’s, but he wasn’t about to turn down food. The chocolate was sickly-sweet and the sugar rush made his stomach churn, but he finished the bar and two more before inhaling two juice pouches. Then he stashed the rest of the food back in to the satchel and hid it in a small alcove before curling up against the wall to try and get some sleep. Hopefully his body would ache less in the morning.

He was awoken some time later by the door creaking open. The pain in his head was worse, and there was a ringing in his ears as he forced himself to stand. If the Kaiser was back for round two, then Yamato wasn’t going to let him catch him off-guard again. Something was whispering closer – mis-matched footsteps too swift and light to be the Kaiser – and when a figure finally appeared on the other side of the bars Yamato felt his heart leap to his throat.

“T-Tailmon?!”

Her blue eyes widened and her ears twitched as she glanced back down the hall.

“In here!” she hissed. Footsteps followed and then Hikari was there. Her bow and arrow fell to the floor as she clutched at the bars.

“Yamato!”

“What are you doing here?” he hissed. He raced to the bars, wrapping his hands around hers. She was tall now – still a head shorter than him, but so much taller than when he’d last seen her. “Are you crazy?!” She shrank back a little.

“I – We didn’t mean to come,” she whispered. “We just wanted to take a look around and try and figure out what the Kaiser was doing, and then the security system went down and we saw your digivice signal. We couldn’t leave you here.” Yamato bit back a bark of startled laughter as she peered up at him nervously through her lashes.

“You’re turning in to your brother,” he warned. It wasn’t meant to be a compliment, but Hikari’s face lit up and he stifled a sigh. “You should go. There’s no point you getting locked up in here with me-”

“We’re not leaving you,” Tailmon said firmly.

“Well you can’t take me with you,” he countered. He tapped the bars and fixed her with a look, and she rolled her eyes at him with a smirk as she sauntered towards the wall. There came a scratching of claws on metal, the creaking of metal being bent the wrong way, and then the click of a lock. She reappeared and tugged at the bars, heaving them open.

“Tailmon!” Hikari breathed. “How?” Tailmon shrugged and dusted off her paws.

“His set up is just like Myotismon’s old cells,” she answered breezily, though Yamato didn’t miss the anxious twitch in her tail. “Once you’ve broken one, you’ve broken ‘em all.” Yamato was about to ask if she’d broken many of Myotismon’s locks but then Hikari was crashing against his chest. His head throbbed and his shoulder ached but he squeezed back, holding her tightly against him as she buried her face in his chest. Tailmon hovered in the hallway, her ears and tail twitching as she peered in to the darkness.

“We should go,” she murmured at last. “We don’t know who else is here.” Hikari pulled back first and gave Tailmon a firm nod.

“Let’s go.”

It was almost too easy to sneak back out of the Kaiser’s base. Hikari kept glancing longingly in to the cages, hovering here and there by digimon who seemed especially wounded or troubled, but Tailmon quickly kept her moving – it was enough of a risk to try and break Yamato out; it would be far too dangerous to try and free the digimon too, most of whom were bound to the Kaiser through his rings and spirals. Luckily Hikari agreed (though with obvious reluctance, and it didn’t stop her studying the prisoners as they passed).

The exit was almost in sight when Yamato heard footsteps. Tailmon’s tail twitched and she hurried them along, but as they drew closer to a crossroads of corridors something snared Yamato’s wrist. Vines wrapped around his arms and dragged him backwards, binding him against the bars of a cell wall and winding around his waist and his legs.

“Yamato!” Hikari cried as Tailmon leapt forwards with a yowl, placing herself between her partner and the shadow that was approaching from the darkened corridor.

“You have some nerve,” the Kaiser hissed, “creeping in to the fortress of the Digimon Kaiser who controls the powers of darkness itself.” Tailmon flourished her claws and Hikari knocked an arrow.

“Let us go,” Hikari demanded. The Kaiser stopped several paces away and laughed.

“You think you can tell me what to do?” Hikari drew the arrow back, aiming at the Kaiser who merely chuckled. “You don’t scare me, little girl-” The arrow pierced the floor at his feet. The Kaiser glanced down at it, his eyebrow arching as his lips curled in to a smirk. Hikari quickly loaded another as the Kaiser sidestepped the arrow, moving slowly toward her. “This isn’t you,” he continued, and there was a mockery in his voice that made Hikari bristle. “You don’t want to hurt me. Otherwise, you would have done it already.”

Tailmon leapt towards him, claws flashing, but the Kaiser was faster. His whip appeared from beneath his cloak and lanced out towards Tailmon, wrapping around her back paw. He threw her off-course with ease, sending her crashing in to a far wall. In the blink of an eye he was upon Hikari, and before she could defend herself he had backhanded her across the cheek and sent her spiralling to the floor with a strangled scream.

“Hikari!”

Three voices cried out at once and suddenly the Kaiser was reeling backwards, clutching at his jaw. A new figure had arrived, his right hand clutched in to a tight fist while the other was wrapped around a thick wooden staff as he stood between the Kaiser and Hikari. Yamato’s breath caught in his throat as the low light of the cells flickered across shaggy strands of golden hair.

“How long are you going to play ruler of the world?” Takeru hissed. “Is it fun? Do you even know what the power of darkness you keep talking about means?” The Kaiser rubbed at the blossoming welt on his jaw and sneered.

“I-”

“You don’t, do you?” Takeru took another step closer, his fists trembling at his sides. The Kaiser stepped back with a sneer.

“And what do you know?” he spat. “You’re insects. You’re all insects!”

“Is that all you can say?”

The whip whistled through the air and caught Takeru on the cheek. His head snapped to the side, and as the crack of the whip slowly echoed in to silence Takeru lifted his finger to brush the sliver of crimson beneath his eye.

“You can’t win with words, so you resort to violence,” Takeru said softly, his words calm and measured. This only seemed to unnerve the Kaiser who shuffled backwards, his shoulders hunched and shivering. “Are you done? Because now it’s my turn.”

Takeru darted forwards. The Kaiser lifted his whip again but Takeru’s staff intercepted; the whip wrapped around the shaft and Takeru tugged it from the Kaiser’s grip, leaving him defenceless as Takeru charged towards him. The staff struck the boy in the side and on his shoulder before the Kaiser managed to catch it and tug it from Takeru’s grip. It didn’t phase Takeru who continued the attack, lashing out with a fist and catching the Kaiser’s cheek. The Kaiser stumbled and tripped, falling heavily to the floor as Takeru continued to advance.

“Takeru!” Patamon cried. “Stop!”

Takeru paused, his fingers twitching at his sides as the Kaiser backed himself against the wall. For a moment nobody moved; a stifling silence flooded the corridor and Yamato shivered, his eyes glued to his brother. At last Takeru straightened and uncurled his fists, stepping back and scooping his staff from the floor, and the Kaiser scrambled to his feet.

“You’re all insects,” he spat, clutching his cheek and scurrying back in to the darkness of the corridor beyond. Takeru watched him go, peering in to the darkness until they heard the heavy slam of a door. Takeru sighed and turned towards Hikari, offering a hand and helping her to her feet.

“Why didn’t you tell us where you were going?” Takeru asked. Hikari chewed her lip and lowered her gaze. “We would have come with you.”

“We just wanted to look,” she answered. “We didn’t mean to come inside, but then…” She trailed off, gesturing towards the corridor they’d come from and to Yamato, still bound to the bars by Vegiemon vines. Takeru turned, peering towards Yamato, and after a moment his eyes widened.

“Y… Yamato?” he breathed. Yamato lifted a hand as best he could to wave slightly.

“Hey, Takeru.”

Tailmon made short work of the vines holding him in place, and as the Vegiemon shuffled back in to the depths of their cells Takeru wrapped himself around Yamato and held him close and buried his face in his brother’s hair. How long had it been since Apokarimon? Since he’d last seen his brother disappearing behind a curtain of white light as they defeated the darkness that had been haunting them since their arrival? Takeru’s fingers clutched at his shirt as he sobbed happy tears in to Yamato’s chest, and Yamato bit back tears of his own.

“We should get moving,” Tailmon murmured after a brief pause. She glanced over her shoulder towards the corridor the Kaiser had disappeared down and her ears canted back. “I don’t want to give him the opportunity to come back with reinforcements.”

They quickly made their way out of the base, and Yamato allowed himself to savour the cool breeze on his skin. Patamon and Tailmon bounded ahead, disappearing behind twin curtains of light and emerging in forms Yamato didn’t recognise. He was quickly introduced to Pegasusmon and Nefertimon, and then Takeru was helping him into Pegasusmon’s saddle. Yamato bit back a groan as the ache in his shoulder flared again, and he waved away Takeru’s concern as his brother slid in to the saddle infront of him.

And then they were flying. The cold wind made Yamato’s eyelids heavy, and soon he was dozing against Takeru’s back as the digital world flew beneath them in a moonlit blur. Miles away a voice asked if there were any more brothers that needed saving, and then the world faded into darkness.

Chapter Text


TAILMON’S MAGIC TEA


Jou had a thousand curses on his lips when he saw the dots appear on the screen of his digivice; all three of them. He swallowed thickly. Some trick of the Kaiser’s, perhaps? It was later than usual for him to be lurking about the Digital World, but it was far too late and far too soon for the others to be visiting again. It was past midnight, but it would still be hours until dawn. Jou had no chance of seeing what was coming in the pitch black, and so he sent Tentomon out to try and scout from the skies.

Sometime after Tentomon left, Gabumon stirred. He sat up, lifting a paw to his chest as his bleary eyes looked around, and then without a word he rose to his feet and began to stumble out of camp. Jou bit back a curse and followed, stopping long enough to light a torch from the fire and make sure Gomamon was beside him as they dove deeper in to the woods.

They arrived at a small clearing just as Pegasusmon and Nefertimon landed with Tentomon hovering beside them. Jou let out a sigh of relief as Gabumon trotted forwards.

“Yamato!” he cheered. Takeru lifted a finger to his lips with a smile.

“He’s asleep,” he said softly. Pegasusmon shifted and Jou caught sight of the elder blond sagged against Takeru’s back.

“You rescued him?!” Jou gaped. “By yourselves?!” Hikari slid from her partner’s back and unhooked her bow from the saddle.

“We didn’t mean to,” she said softly. “Tailmon and I only wanted to see if we could find anything that could be useful, and then… everything kind of happened at once. We’re sorry if we worried you.” She clasped her hands together and ducked in to a small apologetic bow. Jou wanted to be angry, but now that they were back and safe, he found that the adrenaline that had been keeping him awake was wearing off and he was beginning to feel exhausted. He rubbed at his temples and offered a tired smile.

“At least you’re back safely.”

Pegasusmon carefully picked his way back to the big hut with Takeru and Yamato on his back, and once they were beside the campfire it took Jou, Takeru and Hikari to carefully slide Yamato to the ground without waking him. Together they lowered him in to Takeru’s bed, and as Gabumon settled in near Yamato’s head Jou quickly scanned him for injuries. A tender spot on the back of Yamato’s head made the blond grimace in his sleep, but aside from that Jou found no obvious signs of injury.

Takeru, on the other hand, was developing a pair of colourful bruises across the knuckles of both fists, while Hikari had added a small cut and a blossoming welt on her cheek to her collection of injuries. Aside from that they were unharmed, and Jou breathed a sigh of relief before sending them both to bed. It was more a force of habit than anything else – they certainly didn’t need anyone to give them a bedtime anymore – but they both complied without complaint. Takeru found a few stray blankets and settled in beside his brother with Gabumon and Patamon between them while Hikari and Tailmon bid everyone a quiet goodnight before heading back to their hut.

(Jou was tempted to follow them, just to make sure that they didn’t disappear again, but he opted instead to settle down for the night – or what was left of it – keeping one eye on his digivice, watching Hikari’s dot as it came to rest on the outskirts of camp.)

“I don’t remember Hikari being this impulsive,” Gomamon murmured as he curled up against Jou’s chest. Jou pulled the blanket over them and tucked his digivice under his pillow.

“I don’t think Taichi allowed her to be.”

Jou managed a few restless hours of sleep before dawn arrived and the camp began to stir. For a while Jou lay awake with Gomamon snoozing in his arms, wondering if he might try and sleep past sunrise for once, but then Floramon was hovering over him and asking for his help with a Gotsumon who had arrived with a fractured finger.

He made his usual rounds, letting habit and muscle memory drag him from patient to patient. Two Burgamon who had arrived together were finally well enough to leave, though they offered to stay another day and help with lunch before heading back in search of their village (“Or what’s left of it,” one of them murmured sombrely). At mid-morning Jou stopped by the main fire and helped himself to a couple of large oat biscuits and a cup of warm berry tea, but he had barely touched the seat when Patamon arrived to tell him that Yamato was awake.

“How are you feeling?” Jou asked as he stepped out of the sun. Yamato was sitting up, leaning against the wall of the hut with Gabumon on one side and Takeru on the other. He smiled a little as Jou knelt beside him.

“Straight to business,” he said, an eyebrow arching in amusement. Jou smiled.

“It’s good to see you, Yamato.” Yamato smiled and he pushed himself up a little higher. The action made him grimace and Takeru rose a little with a concerned frown, but Yamato batted him away.

“I’m just a little sore,” he said. “The Kaiser didn’t exactly offer me a luxury suite.” Takeru settled again, reassured, but Jou didn’t miss how Yamato rolled his right shoulder as soon as Takeru wasn’t looking. Jou made a mental note to ask him about it later; he doubted Yamato would mention it with Takeru in earshot, and Jou didn’t have it in him to try and split them apart any time soon for the sake of something so small.

Patamon returned a moment later with Tailmon, who greeted Yamato with a smile and a steaming mug of tea.

“Heard you were awake,” she said. She settled in beside him and handed him the tea. “Thought you might want this.” Yamato accepted it with a grateful smile before taking a deep sip and relaxing with a heavy sigh.

“What is it?” Takeru asked, peering in to the mug over his brother’s shoulder.

“Catnip,” Tailmon answered. Jou frowned and opened his mouth, but he wasn’t sure which question he wanted to ask first. Tailmon shrugged. “I thought I was the only one affected by it, but then Hikari got in to the ‘nip once when she was ill and it fixed her right up.”

“Takes the edge off most aches and pains,” Yamato added before taking another sip. “Speaking of Hikari, where is she?” Tailmon’s ears twitched and she studied her gloves.

“Sleeping.” Yamato arched an eyebrow.

“You’re mad at her,” he observed. Tailmon bristled a little and Yamato chuckled in to his tea. “You didn’t want her to come for me.”

“I wanted her to be careful,” was the curt response. Yamato laughed again, though it quickly turned in to a wheeze. He took another sip of tea.

“She’s her brother’s sister,” he said, as if that explained everything. Tailmon fixed him with a piercing gaze.

“Yeah, someone’s gotta talk to her about that,” she muttered dryly.

When Yamato’s grumbling stomach sent Takeru and Patamon out in search of food, Jou took another look over Yamato. His shoulder was sore – a parting shot from the Kaiser – and he had a lingering headache, but otherwise promised Jou that he was fine. Takeru had returned then and Jou had remained silent; he knew head injuries could be dangerous, and bumps to the head could lead to concussion or compression, but he couldn’t quite remember what he was supposed to do about either of them.

(Perhaps it was time they returned home. Injured digimon were one thing – it was often a matter of just making them comfortable until their data had repaired itself – but injured humans were a different matter entirely, and Jou wasn’t sure how much further his junior first aid training could take him.)

After making sure Yamato was comfortable and fed, Jou left him under Takeru’s supervision and went about his usual daily tasks. He found Gomamon sitting beside the fire with Tailmon who was steeping a large kettle of tea, and when Gomamon spied Jou he waved him over.

“You gotta try some of this!” he said with a goofy grin. “It’s magic tea. I feel like I’m floating on a cloud.” Tailmon pursed her lips and added more water to the kettle.

“Maybe it’s a little strong,” she muttered. She glanced up to Jou. “You can get used to it after a while. I thought it might help some of your patients, if they want some.” Jou smiled and thanked her with a grateful nod. He and Gomamon had seen wild catnip growing in all sorts of places, but Jou had brushed it off as another quirk of the Digital World (Gomamon had known enough to identify the herb, but hadn’t thought much of it besides the fact that it smelt bitter and made food taste worse).

He first saw Hikari somewhere after midday, walking through camp with two large buckets of water. After lunch she collected the dirty plates and mugs and took them down to the river to wash them before following Tailmon around to offer refills of catnip tea to anyone who wanted another cup. Jou tried a little bit then; it was tepid and bitter, and it left a strange taste on his tongue, but it did help relieve the persistent ache between his shoulders for a little while.

It was late afternoon when Relemon came bounding through the camp towards him. The baby digimon was a head of golden fur, with a sleek tail tipped with cream fur. Usually her tail was sleek and shiny, and Jou knew she took great pride in it, so it was alarming to see it puffed up like a feather duster.

“Jou-mon! Jou-mon!” she panted, her honey eyes wide and watering. Jou knelt down to meet her and she leapt in to his arms, shivering against his chest as she buried her face in his tunic. “Sleeping – on the path – woke up – they’re coming – humans!” Jou felt his heart leap to his throat before his brain caught up with what she had said. Humans. Plural. Not the Kaiser then, but far more likely to be-

“Anybody home?” Taichi’s voice was bright and clear and Relemon squealed nervously. Jou ran his fingers through her fur and smoothed her frazzled tail.

“It’s all right,” Gomamon said brightly from his place at Jou’s hip. “These guys are our friends! They’re not gonna hurt you!” Relemon lifted her head to look at Jou who smiled.

“They’re safe, I promise,” he said. When Relemon still looked uncertain he slowly placed her on the ground. “Why don’t you go find somewhere comfortable to rest until they’re gone?”

“Great idea, Jou!” Gomamon cheered. “C’mon, Relemon, let’s go find somewhere!” Relemon blinked her large eyes at Jou before allowing Gomamon to lead her away. Jou stood and dusted off his knees, straightening his jacket and smoothing his hair as Taichi and the others appeared from behind a large hut. Taichi grinned and waved as he made a beeline for Jou (who grimaced as he watched several smaller digimon frantically scurry out of the way to hide in the shadows). As they drew closer, Jou noticed that they were carrying several large bags between them, and a nervous laughter bubbled in to his throat.

“You guys going camping?” he asked. He wasn’t sure just how many more humans his little camp could handle.

“We thought we’d bring you some supplies,” Taichi said with a grin as he adjusted the bag on his shoulder.

“We know you guys don’t want to come home without Yamato,” Sora added, “but when you’re ready we thought you might like some clothes. You know, from home.” Miyako nodded eagerly and dropped two heavy bags down beside Sora.

“Plus we figured you’d be pretty tired of fish and berries by now, so I grabbed some bits from my family’s convenience store,” she added. She pulled the zipper open to reveal an assortment of crinkling packages and colourful cans and cartons.

“Did you bring human food?” Patamon cried as he swooped towards them. He landed by Miyako, blinking his large eyes up at her, and Miyako unwrapped a candy bar for him. He sat back and sucked on the bar with a delightful hum. “It’s even better than I remember. Guys, c’mon, this stuff looks great!”

Gabumon emerged first, wringing his paws together and glancing over his shoulder, and Jou didn’t miss the small murmur of surprise that rippled through the group when Yamato stepped out of the shadow of the hut with Takeru hovering nervously behind him. Judging by the trembling of his shoulders, Jou knew he was probably standing taller than he ought to given his fatigue, and he didn’t need Yamato’s gaze to lock with Taichi’s to understand why. For a moment they stared each other down, taking in every detail, and then they moved together – Yamato shuffling and Taichi running to close the gap.

“I don’t know whether to hug you or hit you,” Taichi exclaimed. Yamato smiled.

“I’m sure I’ve done something to deserve both,” he answered. Taichi grabbed his arm and pulled him in to a rough hug, and Jou didn’t miss how Yamato grimaced as Taichi jostled his shoulder.

“Give him some air, Taichi,” Sora scolded as she and Koushiro came up behind him. Taichi let him go and Yamato hid his grimace behind a half-smile as Sora pulled him in to a much gentler hug. “We missed you.”

“Yeah, missed you too,” Yamato murmured. Koushiro didn’t offer a hug and Yamato didn’t look for one, though Koushiro did dip his head.

“We’re glad to see you again,” he said. “We’re sorry we couldn’t rescue you sooner.” Yamato half-shrugged with his good shoulder. Taichi folded his arms with a curious smile.

“How did you escape, anyw-”

“Hikari, what happened to your face?!”

Daisuke’s cry made Taichi spin sharply on his heel. Hikari was stood behind them, and her bright smile was quickly fading. It seemed she had forgotten about the bruise on her cheek, which had blossomed in to a mottled patch of crimson and yellow, and the new scar on the other side of her face was an angry red that stood out from her usual olive complexion. Her hand flew to her cheek but it was too late; Taichi was already speeding towards her.

“What happened?” he demanded, his tone equal parts concern and fury. Hikari shrank back, ducking her head.

“I – I fell,” she answered. Daisuke huffed and folded his arms.

“I don’t believe you.” And neither did Taichi, it seemed, judging by the way his eyes narrowed.

“Did someone attack you?” he asked. “Was it the Kaiser? Did he do this?” Hikari answered ‘no’ right as Tailmon answered ‘yes’, and Taichi’s shoulders tensed. Hikari took a nervous step back.

“It’s nothing-”

“Did he do that, too?” he asked, pointing towards her neck. She hadn’t worn her scarf today, leaving the fading purple ring around her throat clearly visible. She quickly swept her hair over her shoulder.

“That’s old – it doesn’t matter-”

“Doesn’t matter-?!”

“Taichi.” Yamato was at his shoulder, placing a hand on his elbow and pulling him back. “Calm down.” Taichi glared at Yamato from the corner of his eye.

“My sister is black and blue and you’re telling me to calm down?!”

“She’s not a baby anymore,” Yamato retorted, his eyes narrowing dangerously. “She can take care of herself.”

“Oh clearly,” Taichi hissed. Hikari’s eyes narrowed and she straightened.

“The Kaiser just caught us off-guard-”

“What were you even doing anywhere near him?” Taichi demanded, whirling towards her with a furious glare. This time Hikari didn’t back down.

“We only went to look, but when we saw an opportunity to rescue Yamato we took it,” she said, her voice strong as she lifted her chin defiantly.

“Hikari-”

“You would have done the same,” she pressed. Taichi fell silent, rocking back as some of his anger melted into surprise. Hikari drew herself up to her full height (which was still a good head shorter than her brother, though in that moment she seemed somehow taller). “What does it matter? He’s back and we’re all safe.”

“You put yourself in danger-”

“Yamato is safe now, isn’t that what you wanted?” she pressed.

“I didn’t want you to get hurt!”

“I can handle it-”

“Well I can’t!”

It seemed the words had spilled out unintentionally, and when Taichi realised what he had said he pulled back as a thick silence settled around them. Hikari’s anger melted a little and her face fell as Taichi turned away a little, but before either of them could say anything further they were interrupted by Gomamon.

“Hey guys, what’s goin’ on?” he asked, his voice unusually hesitant. When nobody answered he padded over to Jou who lifted him in to his arms. “Just wanted to tell you that there’s a fresh batch of rock cakes by the fire if anyone’s hungry.”

“They sound lovely, Gomamon,” Sora said with a strained smile. She turned back to Taichi, lacing her fingers with his and tugging gently on his arm. He let himself be led away, and as soon as his back was turned Hikari visibly relaxed. Yamato reached out to squeeze her shoulder before following the others to settle in around the fire. Gomamon and Patamon were passing around plates of rock cakes – small, dry buns littered with seeds and currents that made them look like chunks of gravel. A pair of Gotsumon were following them round, offering hot tea or cold water, and once everyone had been seen to they took the platter of cakes and left to make their way around the rest of the camp.

“So,” Taichi began, and Jou could see the effort it was taking to keep his voice calm and level. “Where is the Kaiser’s base?” He glanced across the fire to where Yamato was sat between Takeru and Jou, and Yamato shrugged.

“I was out cold, there and back,” he added before turning to Takeru and Hikari.

“It was where it used to be,” Takeru answered. “He had just hidden it better, but it definitely wasn’t his main base.”

“How do you know?” Daisuke asked from his seat on Hikari’s other side, his tone almost accusatory.

“It was too… basic,” Takeru answered (and if he’d noticed the edge to Daisuke’s voice, he didn’t show it). “It was mostly prison cells… There didn’t seem to be much room for anything else. With everything that he can do, I’ve always suspected he must have some kind of control centre to monitor all of his Dark Towers and the digimon under his control. I don’t think he could run an empire from a base that small.”

“What about the digimon?” Iori asked. “Shouldn’t we try and save them?”

“There are too many,” Yamato answered. “All the digimon at the base are under the Kaiser’s control. If we free them, they’ll only start fighting us.”

“What if we knock down his Dark Tower?” Koushiro suggested. “There has to be one nearby.” Tailmon shook her head.

“I didn’t see one on the way there or the way back,” she answered. “Besides, the Dark Towers are new. Before he was using them, the Dark Rings used to work on their own. I think the digimon in those cells are all controlled individually, not by a Dark Tower.”

“But shouldn’t we be trying to save them?” Iori argued.

“We are,” Sora answered with a reassuring smile, “but the best way to free them is to find and defeat the Kaiser. Those digimon are under the Kaiser’s control, which means they’re probably safe. He’s not going to hurt his own servants, right?” It made sense, but Jou didn’t miss how Takeru shifted uncomfortably. Patamon dropped from the boy’s head in to his lap, and Takeru wrapped his arms tightly around his partner.

“He might,” Patamon said timidly. “Takeru and I found an arena not far from the prison cells. The Kaiser makes digimon fight each other, like it’s a game.”

“Then we have to go get ‘em!” Daisuke announced, jumping from his seat and pumping his fist in to the air with such vigour that he almost sent Veemon flying from his lap and into the fire.

“I don’t like the idea of rushing in,” Taichi said firmly (and he glanced to Hikari who was pointedly watching Daisuke), “but if the Kaiser is hurting them then we should try and help.”

“Just hang on a nano,” Koushiro interjected. “We need to find out just how bad this could get; there are too many variables for us to even try and plan some kind of rescue mission. Just how many digimon are we talking about here?”

“A lot,” Takeru answered grimly. “It’s hard to tell how many, because sometimes the Kaiser locks digimon up together, but I’d say… fifty? Maybe more.”

“And there’s no way of knowing how strong they are, now that we know the Kaiser can control perfect digimon too,” Taichi muttered. Sora reached for his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Koushiro gave a solemn nod.

“If we release them all at once while they’re still under the Kaiser’s control, they’ll destroy us, especially as we’re not at full strength,” he added with a glance to Sora who nodded. With Agumon under the Kaiser’s control, and with Biyomon and Palmon having gone out of reach in their search for Hikari, they were down by three of their usual fighters, and whilst they had Veemon, Hawkmon and Armadimon to help bolster their numbers the newer digimon were still weak and inexperienced. “Saving one person without a plan is dangerous enough-” The comment sparked another silent exchange between the Yagami siblings, “-but a full rescue mission without a proper plan in place is just suicide.”

“So we just leave them all there for the Kaiser to torture?!” Daisuke exploded. Koushiro shook his head.

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“What are you suggesting, Koushiro?” Sora asked.

“Well… I hope you don’t mind me saying, but Yamato doesn’t look up to travelling just yet, and I expect Jou still has a lot of loose ends he’ll need to wrap up to make sure that the camp can carry on in his absence.” Yamato shrugged and Jou nodded. “Plus, we haven’t exactly told anyone that we’ve even found our way back to the Digital World, let alone found everyone. There’s no immediate rush for you guys to come home, so why don’t we take advantage of our situation?”

“And do what?” Taichi asked.

“Takeru and Hikari could take Pegasusmon and Nefertimon back to the prison and find out what we’re dealing with. This is just information gathering,” he added hastily at Taichi’s glare. “We’re fighting the Kaiser blind. We’re starting to understand some of what he can do, but we need to understand how he’s doing it. It might give us a clue to defeating him.” Hikari glanced to Takeru who nodded.

“It would be nice to try and stop him hurting anymore digimon,” Takeru said. Hikari nodded too, and Daisuke sat up rigid.

“I’ll go too!” he exclaimed. Koushiro shook his head at the suggestion.

“Your family will be waiting for you to come home,” he said. “Detention’s a good cover for coming home late, but it won’t get you through the night. It’s not worth making a cover story for this one time, especially for something as simple as information gathering. Best save that for an occasion where we have no choice.” Daisuke pouted and his shoulder sagged.

“Then we’ll come back tomorrow,” Miyako said brightly. Jou was surprised when Taichi grimaced and shook his head.

“Daisuke and I can’t make it tomorrow,” he said in a low voice. “We have that soccer game against Tamachi after school.” Daisuke blinked and then groaned in disappointment.

“Right…”

“And that’s more important than this?!” Miyako exclaimed. Sora placed a gentle hand on Miyako’s arm.

“We have to carry on like everything’s normal,” she said. “Before all of this, Taichi and Daisuke wouldn’t have missed a soccer match, especially not one this important. We have to avoid suspicion so we can keep the Digital World a secret.” Miyako frowned and pouted but didn’t push the matter any further.

As the sun’s light shifted towards the golden rays of early evening, Koushiro gave Daisuke co-ordinates to a nearby Dark Tower. Not only were they taking advantage of the fact that they were already in the Digital World, but he’d also come to the conclusion that the tower was affecting the digimon in Jou’s camp which – whilst demoralising in and of itself – might have been slowing down the time it took for his patients to heal. Daisuke extended an eager invitation to Hikari (“Now that you have a Digimental too, you and Tailmon should join us!”), though his good mood quickly soured when Hikari suggested that Takeru and Patamon should come along too.

The others remained behind with Jou. Sora helped Jou clear away the mugs and plates and discarded rock cakes (it seemed eating the hard treats hadn’t been to everyone’s tastes) while Koushiro withdrew his laptop. Yamato asked Taichi about the new Chosen and Taichi gave him a quick rundown – with more than one interjection from Sora, especially when it came to describing Miyako.

“And they’ve inherited your crests?” Yamato asked as Jou and Sora settled back beside the fire. Taichi nodded.

“Daisuke has Courage, Miyako has Love, and Iori has knowledge.” Yamato pressed his lips together, staring through the fire.

“So there could be more new Chosen out there,” he murmured.

“It seems that way,” Sora nodded, “although Takeru and Hikari have digimentals for their crests, so I don’t think it’s quite as clear-cut as we first thought.”

“I’ve been trying to figure it out,” Koushiro murmured, glancing up from his laptop. “At first I wondered if maybe these Digimentals were created because of us.”

“Us?” Jou asked. Koushiro shook his head.

“Taichi, Sora, Mimi and myself,” he answered. “Up until yesterday, only our crests had been found – with the exception of Mimi’s, of course. I was thinking that perhaps when the gate shut after Apokarimon, maybe the Digital World lost contact with us and it needed to create some new way of manifesting the powers of our crests. Now that we’ve seen Takeru and Hikari with their digimentals, I’m not entirely discounting that theory, but I don’t think I’m quite on the right track.”

“Do you think there are more digimentals out there somewhere?” Sora asked. Koushiro nodded.

“I’ve been wondering if maybe we were supposed to stay in the Digital World after all,” he said. “What if we were always supposed to inherit the digimentals, but by leaving the Digital World we lost our ability to connect with them, and the connection was passed on to the new Chosen?”

“So Takeru and Hikari could still use the digimentals because they got left behind?” Sora asked. Koushiro nodded but Yamato shook his head.

“I think I found the Digimental of Friendship,” he said. “There’s a mountain a few days north of Santa Geria. The Crest of Friendship is carved in to the stone, and at the foot of the mountain there was this weird… thing. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it had the Crest of Friendship on it. Whenever I touched it, it hurt my hands.”

“Like an electric shock?” Sora asked. Yamato nodded.

“That does sound like a digimental,” Koushiro said with a frown. “Although this does mean that my theory is wrong, or you would have been able to pick it up. I must be missing something… If only I had more data on the digimentals, I might be able to figure them out. You said that the one you found was north of Santa Geria?” Yamato nodded and Koushiro stared down at his screen, muttering under his breath for several long seconds before cursing. “I don’t have that part of the Digital World mapped out yet. I don’t know if I’m even close.”

“Mapped out?” Jou asked.

“I’ve been working on a program to map out the Digital World, although it’s still in its early stages.” He turned the laptop around so they could see the screen which was filled with a grid of black and white squares. “It only really picks up Dark Towers and gate terminals so far, but once I’ve got the basics mapped out then I can start adding in more filters and refining the search ability. These represent Dark Towers, or areas under the influence of a Dark Tower,” he said, pointing to a solid black square before moving his fingers to the white square beside it. “The white squares are outside of the towers’ control.”

“What’s that?” Taichi asked, jabbing his finger in to the screen so hard he caused little rainbows to appear. Koushiro jerked the laptop back with a scowl and ran his thumb over the spot, inspecting it carefully before turning the laptop to face them again.

“I’ve been seeing patches like this popping up all over the map, but I still haven’t figured out what they mean.” He gestured to the spot where Taichi had pointed; the rigid lines of the grid were blurred and wavy, and the squares flickered like static on a poor TV signal. “I managed to create an algorithm to study the interference so that I could try and match it against the noise of the Digital World, and it was the weirdest thing – one minute the frequencies were almost identical, and then the next they were polar opposites.”

“What could it be?” Jou asked.

“I was hoping to ask you. Have you seen anything… weird? Or, well, weirder than the usual Digital World levels of weird.” Jou sat back with a frown, casting his mind back.

“Not that I can remember,” he said, “but then, we’ve been camped out here for a while now and we haven’t been moving around as much as we used to.” He turned to Yamato who shook his head.

“Gabumon and I have been in the mountains for the last few years, and there wasn’t really much of anything up there,” he answered. “Maybe you should ask Takeru and Hikari; it sounds like they moved around more than we did.” Koushiro nodded.

Jou felt a warm shiver run up his spine. He sat up taller with a frown, and judging by the confused frowns that passed through the group he hadn’t been the only one to feel it. Koushiro glanced at his screen, and after a moment he smiled and nodded.

“They did it. The tower is down,” he announced. Gomamon perked up and leapt from Jou’s lap.

“C’mon, Jou! It’s been a while!” He bounced away from the fire, disappearing inside a ball of light and reappearing as Ikkakumon. Jou felt his heart swell as he rose to his feet and threw himself in to Ikkakumon’s white fur. He was right; it had been too long. Behind them, Jou heard the peals of Yamato’s digivice as Gabumon also evolved, and by the time Jou pulled himself out of Ikkakumon’s pelt Yamato was already settled in against Garurumon’s side.

“We should probably be getting home soon,” Sora murmured, glancing up from her watch. “It’s getting late.” Taichi sighed and nodded.

“We should probably go get the others.”

“Allow me,” Tentomon offered. “Koushiro, if you wouldn’t mind. I’ll be faster as Kabuterimon.” Koushiro unclipped his digivice and gave his partner an eager nod. Tentomon flew high above the trees to evolve, and they saw a flash of Kabuterimon’s gleaming armour before he took off to find the others.

Sora organised the bags while they waited. Miyako’s open bag contained a variety of sweet and savoury foods, including premade sandwiches and onigiri that would last at least a few days. Her other bag was filled with a selection of clothes for Hikari. Daisuke’s bag had clothes for Takeru to borrow, while Taichi’s bag contained an assortment of shorts and shirts which had been picked out for Jou, but would fit Yamato just as well (if not better, given that Yamato was closer to Taichi’s build while Jou was taller and lankier).

The others soon returned (led by Tentomon who had no doubt devolved in order to avoid crashing through the trees), and the air was quickly filled with the gentle murmur of goodbyes. Taichi made Hikari promise not to undertake any more rescue missions without him, and Hikari made Taichi promise to give their parents big, tight hugs from her which he swore he would with a tight smile.

 

Chapter Text


MORE THAN A MATCH


When Yamato woke the next morning he was surprised by just how well-rested he felt. In comparison to the cold floor of the Kaiser’s cell, and the stone floor of their mountain hideaway before then, the small pallet bed might as well have been a cloud. It was still early, judging by the pale pre-dawn light outside the hut. Gabumon was still sleeping soundly, as were Takeru and Patamon, and across the camp Yamato thought he could make out Jou’s silhouette still curled beneath his blankets.

Carefully he slipped out of bed, tucking his digivice in to Gabumon’s paw before creeping over to retrieve Taichi’s bag from the pile beside a sleeping Tentomon. Inside he found an assortment of shirts and shorts alongside brand-new sets of underwear and socks still in their packaging (Yamato couldn’t help but think that perhaps Sora had had something to do with that). He pulled an outfit together and tucked it under his arm before heading down to the river. He followed it upstream until he found a sharp turn where the surrounding riverbank and bushes would afford him some small measure of privacy, and after one final check to make sure he was alone he quickly stripped off and plunged in to the icy water.

He made it back to the fire shortly after dawn, dressed in Taichi’s black polo-shirt and long khaki shorts. He crossed paths with Jou (who was wearing a loose blue t-shirt that barely reached the waistband of his long summer shorts) near the main campfire which was in the process of being lit, and when Jou saw the wet clothes draped over Yamato’s arm he directed him towards the clothesline at the back of the big hut where he could leave them to dry.

Hikari joined them a little while later. Judging by the wet hair gathered at the base of her neck and the bundle of wet clothes in her arms, she too had been to the river to clean up before changing in to some of Miyako’s clothes. She was wearing a loose yellow summer dress that was cinched at the waist with a braided brown belt, and a pair of thin cream socks that came up over her knee.

“You look nice,” Yamato greeted as she sat beside him.

“Thanks. Sora left me notes.” And from the pocket of the dress she withdrew a folded piece of paper where Sora had drawn a few different options for how Hikari could piece the clothes together to make a number of different outfits. Yamato raised an eyebrow and Hikari laughed again as Tentomon arrived with Miyako’s bag of food, closely followed by Gabumon and Tailmon.

“Is that the food?” Gomamon asked, eyeing the bag hungrily as he circled the fire towards them. Tailmon nodded and Gomamon twisted over his shoulder. “C’mon, Jou, time to eat!”

“I should go get Takeru,” said Yamato, though as soon as he said the words Takeru emerged from the hut, and Yamato blinked in surprise.

Whilst Taichi and Miyako (and Sora, no doubt) had been able to throw together outfits of some decency that were a close enough fit, Daisuke had left Takeru with an oversized grey t-shirt and a pair of too-small shiny soccer shorts that seemed to be creeping in all the wrong places judging by the awkward way he was walking.

“Nice pants,” Yamato teased as Takeru sat down gingerly beside him.

“There was nothing else in the bag, and when I saw that Jou had changed I thought I’d go wash my old stuff and put this on,” he said, tugging at the hem of the shorts. Patamon swooped overhead and took up his usual perch, looking down at Takeru’s lap with a smile.

“I like them!” he chirped decisively.

“Of course you do; they’re shiny,” Tailmon teased.

“Was there anything else in my brother’s bag?” Hikari asked, glancing between Jou and Yamato (and, pointedly, not at Takeru). Jou shook his head.

“Two shirts, and two pairs of shorts,” Jou answered. “There was an undershirt and a jacket, and a spare pair of socks, but I don’t think they’ll help much.”

“Thanks,” Takeru sighed, “but it looks like I’m stuck like this until my clothes dry off.”

“I’ll go check on them for you!” Tentomon offered before fluttering off towards the hut. Hikari finally met Takeru’s gaze then, and she pressed her lips tightly together as she tilted her head slightly.

“I might have a pair of pants that might fit,” she offered. “We found them a while back but they were too big for me. We kept them in case they might come in handy.”

Takeru went with her to retrieve them, and then came back via the big hut to search through what was left in Taichi’s bag. By the time he was done Daisuke’s clothes had been cast aside altogether, and Takeru had paired Hikari spare trousers with Taichi’s undershirt, a pale grey hoodie which he let hang unzipped, and a navy cap.

“It might keep you from giving me any more bald spots,” he said to Patamon who tested it out uncertainly.

“I can’t help it if your hair is slippery,” Patamon retorted. He hunkered down on the hat with a contented sigh. “This is much better!”

They picked out the perishables from Miyako’s bag and quickly sorted them in to piles of what would need eating, what would need chilling, and what could probably survive a day or two in the shade. Beneath the food was a small collection of first-aid supplies, and Jou scooped them up excitedly to add them to his existing supplies, and he disappeared with Gomamon and Tentomon to update their inventory. Hikari and Tailmon left to forage for nuts and berries (with a promise that they wouldn’t go too far) and Takeru looked as though he might have wanted to join them, only to glance at Yamato from the corner of his eye and settle back on the wooden bench.

“You don’t have to stay with me, y’know,” Yamato said. Takeru offered him a bright smile as he handed Patamon another candy bar.

“I want to,” he answered. “I haven’t had a chance ask you about, well, everything.”

“Everything?”

“What happened to you after Apokarimon? Where did you go? Where have you been all this time?” Yamato chuckled and raised his hands.

“Ah – everything,” he said. Takeru grinned and Yamato smiled. “Why don’t you go first? You always were better at telling stories.”

Takeru had been found by Ogremon a few days after their battle with Apokarimon, and they’d stayed with him a while before being discovered by Gennai. He spent a week or two at Gennai’s underwater house until a distress call had arrived for Gennai whilst he had been out. Unsure of what else to do, Takeru had left a note and taken some supplies, and then he and Patamon had set out to help Elecmon at Primary Village, where they’d stayed for some time until the Kaiser’s tyranny had pulled them away. It seemed they’d had a series of colourful clashes in the Kaiser’s early days, and then Takeru had found the Digimental of Hope and the attacks had lessened (though Takeru had been dismayed to learn that the Kaiser wasn’t gone, and instead had just moved his attentions further south).

Yamato’s story was fairly boring in comparison. He and Gabumon had spent several months wandering a dense forest before finally coming across a small village of Tanemon who helped them find their way to the rolling fields beyond. Yamato had chosen a path at random, and had spent several days trudging along by himself until he had stumbled across Hikari and Tailmon. They’d stayed together for a couple of months until a fire had driven them apart. Yamato and Gabumon spent days looking for them with no trace until they had come across the Crest of Friendship carved in to the side of a mountain, and they’d stayed there – oblivious of the Kaiser and his cruelty until they’d overheard a chance conversation at the mountain market.

They talked all the way until lunchtime, when Jou asked them if they wouldn’t mind helping take food and refreshments to patients who couldn’t make it to the fire. Takeru and Patamon ran back and forth bearing platters of food while Yamato and Gabumon made their way around the camp with two large canteens of water and a satchel full of whittled cups.

Hikari and Tailmon returned shortly after midday with sacks of nuts, berries and a haul of fish. While they sorted the food and ate a small lunch, Yamato watched Jou bid goodbye to a baby Pupumon who had finally regained the use of his injured wings. He left the camp in the company of a burly Gotsumon who promised to escort him back to his village on his way home.

At mid-afternoon the camp fell in to a lull, and Tailmon used the last of her catnip to brew a tea that helped shift the last aches and pains from Yamato’s bones. The fire had died out after lunch, and Jou and Gomamon were building it back up ready for the evening.

“So no visitors today, huh?” Gomamon asked as he handed Jou another branch. Jou nodded.

“Looks that way.” He sat back on his heels and dusted his hands. “It’s almost a shame – I think I’m getting used to being around people again.” Yamato rolled his empty cup between his hands.

“Well then why don’t we go and see them instead?” he suggested. Hikari stiffened and Jou spluttered while Takeru sat up with a bright grin. “Taichi said something about a soccer game. Shall we go?”

“I – I don’t know that we can,” Jou stammered. “We don’t even know how to get back-”

“We do,” Tailmon said brightly, glancing up to Hikari who grimaced. “We’ve seen Daisuke and the others go through the gate a few times now.”

“But we can’t,” Hikari countered.

“You haven’t tried since your digivice evolved,” Tailmon pointed out. “What if that’s the key to opening the gate?”

“We won’t know until we try!” Takeru said brightly. Jou cleaned his glasses on the corner of his shirt (perhaps, Yamato thought, to avoid the curious look Gomamon was giving him).

“But is it a good idea?” he asked. “What if they’re not ready for us to come back?”

“What do you mean, Jou?” Gomamon asked.

“Well… What if they’ve gotten used to not having us around?” he asked. “We’ve been gone a while – what if things have changed?”

“What things?” Jou grimaced and slipped his glasses back on to his nose.

“Things… Things like beds. What if we don’t have beds?”

“Can’t you make one?” Gomamon asked. “You’ve made lots of beds in the Digital World!”

“It’s different in our world, Gomamon,” Jou answered with another grimace. My brothers and I… we used to share one room, and it was very cramped. What if they didn’t keep the third bed? Or the wardrobe or my toothbrush?” Yamato might have laughed at the thought of a lost toothbrush if it didn’t bring with it thoughts of everything else that might have been discarded over the years.

Yamato’s father had always been a busy man, and Yamato wouldn’t have been surprised if his room was exactly the way he’d left it before he’d gotten on the bus to summer camp. His mother, on the other hand, preferred a more minimalist life and was prone to frequent bouts of tidying with a bi-annual clear out. Would the contents of Takeru’s room have begun to count as clutter over the years? How long had their parents clung to the hope that they would come home from a world nobody could return to? How long would they live with the clothes and toys and trinkets before they would be placed in to storage or given away?

“Then we have a back-up plan,” Takeru said after a moment of thought. “If they’re not ready for us to go home, then we’ll invite everyone back here after the game to… hang out, I guess, and then we can just go home another time.” Hikari fiddled with the hem of her dress.

“But what about the things Koushiro asked us to do?” she asked. “We were supposed to go back to the Kaiser’s cells to see if we could help all those digimon.”

“If we can find them again,” Takeru countered. “The Kaiser will have strengthened his security, if he hasn’t moved all the digimon to another prison. Wouldn’t you rather go home, at least for an afternoon?” Hikari opened her mouth, and for a moment Yamato thought she might object until she smiled slightly and nodded.

“I… Yes. Of course I do,” she said with a laugh that didn’t sit right with Yamato. He frowned and she turned to Tailmon who had wrapped her tail around Hikari’s ankle.

“Then let’s go!” Takeru exclaimed. “There’s gotta be a terminal nearby, and if our time is synced with theirs then maybe we can make it before the game starts!”

And that, apparently, was that. Takeru and the digimon took the platters to the river before anyone could object. Jou quietly excused himself to do one last frantic lap of the camp to find his delegates and make sure everything was in order, while Hikari muttered something about finding a jacket as she rushed back to her hut. Tailmon didn’t move to follow, and after a moment she glanced at Yamato who answered the unasked request with a nod. He stood and stretched before following, pausing in the doorway to watch as Hikari pulled a pale blue cardigan from Miyako’s bag. Then she reached for her satchel and tipped it out on to the nearby blankets. She sifted through the items, placing several back in to the satchel before she sat back on her heels with a heavy sigh.

“Something on your mind?”

Hikari jumped and span to face him, and for a moment he saw a rainbow of emotions flash across her face before she hid them all behind a smile as she invited him in with the assurance that nothing was wrong.

“Uh-huh…” he drawled. “So that wasn’t you back there trying to find an excuse for us to not go home?” Hikari turned away without a word, turning her attention back to her belongings as she began to pack the rest away again. Yamato sighed and knelt beside her, dropping any pretence in the hopes that perhaps she would do the same. “Hikari, will you tell me what’s wrong?” She paused, turning something over in her hands as she pursed her lips.

“It’s nothing,” she said, lifting her head with a smile. “It’s just… It’s silly. It doesn’t matter.”

“Hikari-”

“Here.” His voice died in his throat as he stared down at the battered harmonica in her hand. Yamato reached towards it, hardly able to believe it was so close after missing it for so long. He curled his fingers around it, feeling the familiar cool of the metal against his skin.

“I found it after the fire,” Hikari said softly. “Tailmon and I went out looking for berries because I was feeling better, and then we saw the fire. By the time we got back, everything was destroyed. We didn’t mean to leave, but-”

“Trust me,” he said, “I’ve never been happier that you didn’t listen to me. I thought that…” He trailed off, unable to say the words out loud, and Hikari nodded slowly.

“We thought it too,” she murmured. He slipped the harmonica in to his pocket.

“So, are you going to tell me why you don’t want to go home?” She stiffened and curled her fists in Miyako’s cardigan.

“I just… I think I’m better off here, that’s all,” she answered at last.

“But what about your family?” he asked. “They must miss you, and Taichi-”

“He doesn’t miss me,” she mumbled, though she seemed to regret the words. She dropped her head, hiding behind a curtain of hair, and Yamato frowned.

“That’s not true, Hikari. I’m sure he’s missed you more than anyone-”

“Then why hasn’t he asked me to come home?” She lifted her head, her watery eyes burning in to him as her lip trembled. “If he wants me to go home, then why hasn’t he asked?”

Yamato didn’t have an answer to that, and Hikari lowered her head again, wiping at her eyes. He swallowed thickly and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in towards him and squeezing softly.

“I’m sure there’s a reason. Maybe it’s what Jou said – maybe he just wants everything to be ready for when you come home.” She sniffed and dried her cheeks again, but said nothing. He gave her another squeeze before letting her sit up again. “And, hey, even if something has happened, you’ve always got me. And Takeru.”

“And Tailmon,” she murmured, leaning her head on his shoulder. He nodded and let his head rest atop hers.

“We’re all here for you, Hikari. We’re not going anywhere, and neither is Taichi. We don’t have to be alone anymore.” She sat up and dried her cheeks with a nod before busying herself with her belongings – wrapping her bow and her quiver full of arrows in blankets and tucking them next to the wall of the hut, and then after one last hug they made their way back to the others. Takeru was waiting with Gabumon, Patamon and Tailmon, and they were watching as Gomamon tried to pry Jou away from Floramon.

“And don’t forget to wash the bandages every day – twice a day – and make sure they’re dry before you use them again,” Jou was saying in a panicked fluster. “And there’s more antiseptic in the supply bags now, oh and plasters too, and proper pins for the bandages-”

“I know, I know,” Floramon sighed. “I helped you put them away. Now go! We’ll be fine!”

“If you want me to stay-”

“I want you to leave me in peace!” she laughed, though her petals bristled as she ushered him away. Yamato grabbed him by the shoulder and marched him out of camp, ignoring his fretting as he seemed to remember an endless list of things he’d forgotten to do. They passed by Tentomon who had taken to spending his afternoons patrolling the perimeter, and when Gomamon announced that they were looking for a Digital Gate Tentomon proudly informed them that he knew exactly where to find one. By the time they had left the cover of the trees, Jou had finally stopped fretting and Yamato removed his hand from Jou’s shoulder.

They found the terminal barely ten minutes away from the forest, and as they approached the screen lit up with a burst of static that brought them to a halt. Suddenly Yamato felt nervous, and he stuffed his sweaty hands in to his pockets as he glanced back over his shoulder to Takeru who gave him a bright grin. Hikari smiled too, though hers was filled with uncertainty.

“I guess this is goodbye for now then, Jou,” Gomamon sighed.

“G-Goodbye?!” Jou spluttered. Gomamon nodded.

“Tentomon hasn’t been able to go back with Koushiro, so I’m guessin’ I’ll be stuck here without you for a while.” Jou’s face paled and he slid his glasses up his nose.

“Well then maybe I should stay here-”

“Don’t be silly!” Gomamon exclaimed. “You should go back and see your family. Maybe soon I’ll be able to visit too.”

“Does that mean Gabumon will have to stay here too?” Yamato asked, reaching for his partner’s paw.

“Most likely,” said Tentomon. “Koushiro thinks it’s the new digivices that allow partner digimon to travel through the gate, so Patamon and Tailmon should be fine.” Patamon’s eyes lit up.

“I get to go to your world, Takeru?” he squealed. He barrelled in to Takeru’s chest and Takeru squeezed him tight.

“Looks that way!”

“I’m glad we don’t have to split up,” Hikari said softly. Tailmon nodded and leapt up on to her shoulders, wrapping herself around Hikari’s neck and rubbing their cheeks together. Yamato knelt down to bring himself to eye level with Gabumon who was smiling up at him.

“Will you be okay?” Yamato asked. Gabumon nodded firmly.

“I’ll be just fine,” he answered with a beaming smile. “I’ll stay with Gomamon and Tentomon so you know where to find us.” Yamato nodded and squeezed Gabumon’s paw tightly.

“I’ll try not to be away too long,” he said. Gabumon wrapped his arms around Yamato’s neck and hugged him tightly.

“You should go and see your family. I know you miss them, even if you don’t say it.” Yamato felt his cheeks flush, and he buried his face in Gabumon’s fur until the heat melted away.

As they drew closer to the old television, the static on the screen slowly began to give way to an image. At first it was little more than a blurry silhouette, but the picture soon cleared to reveal a shock of auburn hair and Koushiro’s surprised expression.

“Uh… hey, guys!” he greeted, blinking away his surprise. “I didn’t expect to see you!”

“Same here!” Takeru laughed, kneeling down infront of the screen.

“Are you coming through?”

“If we can,” Takeru answered. “Can you help us?”

“O-Of course! You just need to hold your D-3 up to the screen and the gate should open for you.” Takeru nodded.

“Okay, here we go!”

“WAIT-”

The world exploded with light, wrapping itself around Yamato like a blanket and squeezing. His heart stopped and his breath caught in his throat, and for a moment he was shapeless within a void of data until suddenly he was tumbling forwards. His fingers clipped something hard and his face grazed something cold as he found himself wedged amidst a pile of bodies pressing at him from all sides.

“Sorry, Koushiro,” Takeru wheezed. “Did I do something wrong?”

“I was only going to ask you to let me get out of your way,” came Koushiro’s muffled reply.

“Who’s elbow is that?” Jou gasped. Hikari squeaked out an apology and soon the pile of bodies began to wriggle as people started pulling themselves apart.

“Careful, Patamon, you’re on my tail!”

“Sorry!”

The weight on Yamato’s back disappeared and he quickly rolled on to his side, freeing Koushiro who had been trapped beneath him. He pushed himself to his knees and straightened his tie and blazer before standing.

“We weren’t expecting you!” Koushiro said, dusting off his sleeves.

“We came to watch a soccer game!” Patamon exclaimed. Takeru quickly shushed him.

“You have to be quiet, remember?” Patamon’s eyes widened.

“Oh! Right!” And he dropped heavily in to Takeru’s arms, still and stiff like a furry little statue. Takeru chuckled and tickled his tummy and Patamon stifled a squeal.

“What are you doing here?” Jou asked.

“I was trying to get some more time with the Digital Gate,” Koushiro answered. “If I can figure out how to replicate it on my own computer, then we won’t have to rely on using the computer lab and it’ll be easier to come and go.”

“You don’t want to watch the soccer game?” Patamon asked.

“Soccer’s not really my thing anymore,” he answered. “But I can take you down if you’d like to watch?” Patamon nodded eagerly and Koushiro reached over to close the gate and shut down the computer. He packed his laptop back in to his bag and slung it over his shoulder before hesitating. “Remember, digimon aren’t known here. The others are here too, but they’re acting like stuffed toys when they’re around other people.”

“I can do that!” Patamon chirped before going stiff again, his little cheeks puffed with determination. After a moment his ears began to twitch and Takeru poked his cheek.

“You’re allowed to breathe,” Takeru laughed. Patamon let out a heavy sigh of relief. Tailmon meanwhile was staring at Koushiro with an arched brow, and when he merely shrugged she rolled her eyes and allowed Hikari to scoop her from the ground.

Koushiro led them through the school and out towards the pitch where a small crowd had gathered for the occasion. A coach was pulled up by a high embankment, and a procession of young boys in green shirts and black shorts were filing down the steps towards the field. Yamato spied Taichi some distance away, deep in conversation with Daisuke who was nodding intently at whatever Taichi was saying. They didn’t notice as Koushiro led Yamato and the others along the side of the pitch towards the tiered benches where the seats were surprisingly full.

“The match is kind of a big deal,” Koushiro remarked when Yamato mentioned the size of the crowd. “Tamachi have won the junior league by a significant margin for the last few years, while this is Odaiba’s first year of being eligible to enter. It’s only a friendly match, but against a team like Tamachi they need all the support they can get. Ah, there they are.”

The others were sitting along one of the benches about halfway up the stands. Sora and Miyako were deep in conversation whilst Iori was looking down to a soccer-sized ball of cream fur in his lap. He was the first to spot them, and as Koushiro began to lead them up the stairs Iori leant in to Miyako. She glanced to him and then followed his gaze to Yamato and the others, and she shot to her feet with an excited squeal before scrambling over the others towards the stairs.

“You came!” she exclaimed. She made a beeline for Hikari and grabbed her wrist. “I’m so glad. I am not a soccer fan. I only came to see Ichijouji and he’s not even here, so I need someone to keep me sane until this is all over!” Tailmon glared down at the hand around her partner’s wrist while Hikari covered her surprise with a smile and allowed Miyako to drag her down the bench to a seat between her and Iori (she did manage a glance over her shoulder to Takeru who laughed and followed, setting himself on Iori’s other side). Koushiro and Jou followed, shuffling past Sora to sit between her and Takeru, and Sora made everyone shuffle down to make room for Yamato.

“You came,” she said as he sat down beside her.

“Yeah,” he answered with a smile. She smiled back before turning to glance down the line, waving at Hikari who was quickly pulled back in conversation by Miyako who was scooping a small pink digimon off the ground and squeezing it tightly against her chest.

“Isn’t that Taichi’s jacket?” she asked, pointing to Takeru (who was being introduced to the small digimon in Iori’s lap). “And… who’s pants are those?”

“Hikari’s,” Yamato answered. Sora turned back, her eyes wide and a question on her lips, and Yamato laughed. “Trust me, it’s better than Daisuke’s clothes.”

“Oh no,” she said, laughing in to her hand. “What did Daisuke give him?” Yamato described the clothes with the straightest face he could muster, but at the memory of the shiny shorts he let out a snort that had Takeru glancing to him from the corner of his eye. Sora bit her lip to keep from laughing and looked like she might have had something to add when a sudden hush fell over the crowd.

“No! They can’t start yet!” Miyako whined, pushing and pulling at her partner like an accordion as the teams began to move in to position. “He’s not here yet!”

Down on the field, Taichi patted Daisuke firmly on the shoulder before making his way towards the edge of the pitch. He took a mouthful of water and ran a hand through his hair before turning towards the stands. At last he noticed them, and as he stared up at them slack-jawed Yamato leant back and offered a small wave with a sly grin. When Hikari waved at them he finally seemed to snap out of his stupor long enough to let out a bark of surprised laughter. On the pitch Daisuke seemed to have noticed them too judging by how he was jumping and waving (and generally making a fool of himself). Takeru and Jou were already waving back, but it was only when Daisuke had attracted Hikari’s attention that he stopped with a grin and moved in to place. Yamato glanced to Sora who was watching the exchange with an amused smile, and Yamato found himself wondering if the baggy t-shirt and shiny shorts were really the only clothes Daisuke could spare.


Ken ground his teeth and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Yes another of his menial feats had attracted the fascination of the masses, and the thrice-damned reporters had kept at him with their worthless questions in pursuit of unearthing something they might present as journalism. How long did it take? Was it hard to do? What was the hardest thing about being a genius? Worse than the questions had been the nasal, neurotic voice of the reporter from Fuji TV which, when coupled with the saccharine sweet floral perfume that she appeared to have bathed in before the interview, had left Ken with a pounding headache.

The car finally slowed to a stop and Ken cast his eyes over the meter: three thousand Yen exactly. Ken left strict instructions that it be charged to the school. He’d gone to great pains to remind the reporters that he couldn’t have succeeded without the school’s curriculum and facilities; surely a taxi fare was a small price to pay for all the free publicity he was bringing them.

He stepped out of the taxi and hitched his soccer bag higher, glad that he’d changed before leaving Tamachi. He cast his eyes over the pitch below; a sizeable enough crowd, though it seemed that the game was already at halftime judging by the way the teams were gathered around their coolers. As he began to descend the steps towards the pitch he found himself surrounded by a gaggle of excitable fangirls who swarmed around him like flies, swooning and sighing and begging for an autograph. He schooled his features into a well-practiced smile and quickly excused himself, striding forwards and forcing the swarm to scatter. Excitable murmurs began to ripple through the crowd as more and more people noticed his arrival, until a particularly shrill scream caught his attention.

He looked before he could stop himself, and for a moment the world was lost to blind fury as he stared at their familiar faces. They were all here, even her. He singled her out in a second, watching as she smiled down at the idiots on the pitch below. He had almost entertained that perhaps she was like him – lost and alone, but without the power to do anything about it – but any notion of similarities between them went flying of the window when the bespectacled girl beside her started tugging on her arm and she did little more than laugh. The taller girl was staring at him, slack-jawed, and when he flashed her his most dazzling smile he took great pleasure in her slight swoon. It took all his self-control to keep the smile from becoming a smirk; these insects were as docile as the rest of the swarm, it seemed.

“Ichijouji!” Coach Tanabe greeted warmly as Ken joined the team by the cooler. “We’re so glad you could make it!” Ken eyed the scoreboard; 5-2 to the opposition. It was no wonder they were so happy to see him. He bit back a quick remark; it would not help him here.

“I can only apologise for the delay,” he said, bowing his head and offering the coach his most charming smile. “I hope you haven’t suffered too much without me.”

“You have a busy life to lead!” Tanabe said. “We’re just glad you could find the time.” Ken smiled and ducked his head again before allowing himself to be pulled away by Hoshino. The boy removed the black band from his arm that marked him as team captain and quickly passed it to Ken, who accepted it with a gracious bow.

In the last minute of half-time he briefed the team on their path to victory. Unlike academics, which were easy to breeze through without much thought, soccer was a chance for Ken to stretch is tactical mind. This wasn’t just kicking a ball through the grass; this was war, and it was undeniable that his troops had begun to perform better once he had made them understand that. Under his command it was no longer a game of simple attack or defence, nor of simply guiding the ball; with a player here and a pass there, it became a game of manipulation, not just of his own team but of those who opposed him.

All in all, it was not dissimilar to his strategy for the Digital World, only on a smaller scale.

They took their places for the second half and Ken had to force himself not to react as his opponent drew closer. The boy was walking backwards, shouting a last-minute joke to a teammate and allowing Ken to finally put a name to a face: Motomiya. They were of a height with each other, and when Motomiya finally turned to face him Ken almost laughed at the ridiculous way the boy practically dissolved before him.

“I-Ichijouji Ken!” he spluttered, practically buzzing with childish wonder. “Wow! I mean… yeah! Wow! It’s an honour to play against you! I can’t believe it!” He offered his hand for a handshake, but before Ken could take it a cry from the stands drew their attention.

“Daisuke! Do your best!” The girl was standing in the seats, her brown hair dancing behind her as she dropped her hands from her mouth and stood rigid. She wasn’t staring at Motomiya; she was staring at Ken, squinting past a spill of colour on her cheekbone with a look of furious familiarity. Ken met her eyes and she lifted her chin by the barest fraction as though she suspected – no. She knew. He smirked to hide his fury; that was an issue he would have to sort later.

“Nice friends you got there,” he said, accepting Motomiya’s handshake (and taking entirely far too much pleasure in how Motomiya could do little more than stifle an excited squeal).

With a sharp blast of the whistle, the second half began. Ken allowed Motomiya to take control of the ball, and for a while Ken merely followed as the boy took the ball down the field. Ken glanced over his shoulder to Fukuda, and with a sharp nod his teammate took a wide pass at the boy. Motomiya dodged the attack in plenty of time, tucking the ball beneath his feet and darting around Fukuda without breaking his stride. So he wasn’t entirely unobservant, Ken noted, though if he’d been paying more attention he could have simplified the manoeuvre. He nodded to Igarashi and Asato and they closed in. Motomiya spied both of them from the corner of his eye a fraction too late and he had no other choice but to backpedal, knocking the ball between Ken’s legs and twisting around him. Motomiya didn’t even glance behind as he streaked down the field. For all that it revealed about him, Ken let it slide.

Sakamoto and Nomura sprinting forwards to block Motomiya on both fronts while Hayashi centred himself in the goal, waiting to see which way the ball would go should Motomiya slip past their defences. Fortunately for them, the boy wouldn’t be given the chance.

Having learned all he wished to learn about the opposing captain’s skills (or lack thereof), Ken sprinted to Motomiya’s side and stole the ball with his usual ease. Ken’s teammates had already positioned themselves strategically behind him, and once Ken had control of the match it was a simple matter of running the ball down the centre of the field. Surprised by the sudden turn of events the opposing keeper was too stunned to watch the ball correctly; he dove left and the ball sailed straight through the centre of the goal. Ken turned in time to see Motomiya’s eyes flash as he realised he’d been played for a fool, and Ken could tell by the way he strode forwards that he wouldn’t let it happen again. Good; it would be even more satisfying to crush the boy when he was giving it his all.

Despite the best efforts of the team in red (and they clearly were the team’s best efforts, however laughable they might have been) the match continued in Tamachi’s favour. Motomiya’s teammates were even less competent than he was, and under Ken’s command the Tamachi team were handling them with ease, leaving Ken to deal with Motomiya. Whether the boy realised it, the game had quickly dissolved in to a one-on-one match; the other players on the field were mere accessories, and without their assistance Motomiya fell for every trap Ken laid for him. If he’d known that a single game of soccer would reveal so many weaknesses, Ken might have offered a friendly head-to-head weeks ago.

The problem, however, didn’t lie with Motomiya alone. On his own he was brash, old and over-confident. It was the others at his side who helped keep him in check and stopped him from doing anything too reckless.

Perhaps that was the answer, he thought absently as the game drew to a close. They were so far ahead now that their victory was assured, and as usual Ken had released the reins a little, allowing his team the freedom to be a little more experimental with their strategy. Ken trailed after Asato as he brought the ball back down the pitch, but his mind was miles away. Separate the boy – no, separate the team. Pick them off one by one. For an added bonus, throw in a little distress, some disgrace, and a sprinkling of humiliation and he had the perfect recipe for-

The pain in his shin was sudden and blinding and Ken tripped over something large and fleshy. Suddenly he was skidding along the grass on his cheek, his mind scrambling to process what had happened, and when he finally came to a stop he rolled to his side to see Motomiya grinning victorious, still lying in the grass from his sliding tackle.

With the final whistle ken drew himself to his feet and rejoined his team. He wiped the mud from his face and dusted the grass from his shorts as his teammates congratulated and thanked him in equal measure. Tamachi might have won, but more than Ken’s leg was stinging from his personal defeat. When the teams lined up to congratulate each other for the match, Ken hung back, hoping that he might be able to avoid Motomiya amidst the pleasantries and make it back to the shuttle bus before he lost the last of his cool. He was not so fortunate; Motomiya was the last in his line too, and with nobody behind them there was nothing to stop the boy from keeping a tight grip on Ken’s hand.

“Hey, look, I’m sorry about your leg,” he said, still shaking Ken’s arm vigorously. Ken forced a smile and Motomiya smiled back. “I just saw an opening and had to go for it, y’know? I’m sure you’ve done it hundreds of times.”

“Thousands,” Ken answered dryly, but the tone was lost on the boy.

“Ichijouji!” Hoshino called. “The bus is here!” Ken finally managed to extract his hand, and he used it to give Hoshino an acknowledging wave. When he turned back to Motomiya, the boy was still grinning like an excitable puppy.

“Hey, uh, how about a game sometime, just you and me?” he asked. “I’d love to really go one-on-one with ya sometime!” Motomiya shoved a hand in to his pocket and withdrew a crumpled piece of muddy paper with a phone number on one side and an e-mail address on the back. Ken allowed himself an indulgent smirk as he plucked it from the boy’s grubby fingers.

“I look forward to it.”


Despite Odaiba’s defeat, Daisuke had been in high spirits after the match and had only stopped talking about his tackle against Ichijouji when Miyako had berated him for not getting an autograph. After narrowly avoiding a lengthy tongue-lashing, Daisuke had regaled them with how “The Rocket” had agreed to a game some time – just the two of them. Daisuke had repeated the soccer star’s words a hundred times before Sora had been successful in changing the conversation.

Unfortunately, they didn’t start talking about where Hikari and the others were going to stay for the night, and the uncertainty hung over her until she thought it might suffocate her. As soon as the opportunity arose, Hikari found herself telling the others about the picnic, and once the plan was agreed she had volunteered to return to the Digital World – alone – to gather the food from the camp and scout out somewhere for them to eat while Taichi and Daisuke showered and changed.

“How about that spot up the river where we were fishing this morning?” Hikari suggested as she and Tailmon picked their way through the trees back towards Jou’s camp. “It’s not that far from the gate, and it’s pretty secluded.” Tailmon nodded.

“And well-hidden,” she added. Hikari glanced at her as their hut came in to view.

“You think there might be trouble?” she asked. Tailmon nodded.

“We broke in to the Kaiser’s prison and freed a prisoner,” she said. Her lips curled in to a satisfied smile. “And Takeru punched him. Twice. I’m surprised he’s not tried to retaliate.” Hikari shivered; in all the excitement of being reunited with (almost) everyone, she’d tried not to think too much about their last run-in with the Kaiser.

“Maybe I’ll bring my bow,” she said softly. “Just in case.” Tailmon nodded, and they veered towards the small hut. Tailmon led the way inside, only to freeze, and as Hikari’s eyes adjusted to the dim light within she saw why.

“What are you doing here?” Hikari demanded. The Kaiser chuckled darkly and turned to face her, tucking his hands behind his back.

“Waiting for you, actually,” he answered. Tailmon growled low in her throat.

“What do you want?” she hissed. The Kaiser brought a hand to his chin with a thoughtful hum.

“What do I want?” he repeated slowly. “Well, complete control of the Digital World would be a good place to start. Perhaps your friends grovelling at my feet. But right now, what I want, is you.” A chill ran down Hikari’s spine and she glanced to her bedroll, only to see the blankets in disarray. The Kaiser chuckled.

“Looking for this?” His other hand emerged from behind his back, his fingers wrapped tightly around her bow. Hikari sucked in a sharp breath as the Kaiser turned it over in his grip, examining the nicks and scars. “It is beautiful. And what a story it tells. Didn’t I give you this one?” He pointed to a particularly large dent and smiled. “Yes, I did. Such a shame that its story has to come to an end.” He gripped the bow firmly and bent it the wrong way until the wood cracked and splintered. Hikari’s heart plummeted.

“Hikari!” Tailmon snapped. She bounded past Hikari’s ankles and slipped outside. Right. Outside. Tailmon could evolve outside. Hikari sucked in a breath and tried to follow, but something thin and sharp snared her neck as the Kaiser looped the strip of the bow over her head and pulled it back sharply.

“I don’t think we’ll be evolving today, do you?” he hissed. Tailmon froze. The Kaiser chuckled and pressed Hikari forwards, the string of the bow still wrapped around her neck. “And don’t think of asking for help. Nobody will hear you.” He marched her towards the big hut, and Hikari bit her lip as she saw the scorched dwellings all around them. The firepit had been trampled, and the roof of the big hut had been destroyed beyond repair.

“What did you do?” Hikari sobbed. She felt the Kaiser shrug. “Where are they?”

“Most of them fled,” he answered. “They were of no use to me. As for the others… they should not have fought back.” He tightened the string around Hikari’s neck and she whimpered. Tailmon growled and flexed her claws, but shadows shifted behind her as several of the Kaiser’s minions emerged. They were outnumbered; laughably so. Hikari clenched her eyes shut and bit back tears, and the Kaiser chuckled.

“Now, how about we spend a little time together?” He clicked his fingers and a shadow swooped overhead. He unwound the string from her neck and cast the bow aside, but before Hikari could break for freedom he had wrapped an arm tightly around her waist and leapt impossibly high in to the air. An Airdramon swooped below them, and Hikari heard Tailmon yowl. She twisted in the Kaiser’s grip to see several fiery Coronamon pinning her down.

“Don’t hurt her!” Hikari begged.

“Don’t worry,” the Kaiser hissed. “She’s coming with us.” Another Airdramon flew through the camp, its tail sweeping huts and shelters aside, and the Coronamon bundled Tailmon on to its back. Soon the camp had disappeared beneath the canopy of trees, and Hikari let out a choked sob as she saw the clouds of thick, black smoke that twisted in to the sky.

Chapter Text


FRACTURED LIGHT


Daisuke was showered and dressed in record time, and was already leaving the changing rooms as many of the teams were still leaving the showers. He hurried to the computer lab where DemiVeemon was waiting with Taichi and the others. Miyako had taken Iori and Takeru to her parents’ store to get more food, and Daisuke wanted to get to the lab before they did so that they could hurry to meet up with Hikari and Tailmon.

Upon entering the lab, Daisuke had hoped for some kind of praise from Taichi; something to acknowledge his outstanding performance against Ken “The Rocket” Ichijouji (a nickname that Daisuke should, in hindsight, have taken a little more seriously). Instead he received the smallest of greetings before Taichi returned to his conversation with the others, reminiscing about old times.

So instead Daisuke found himself sulking in the corner in a silence that not even DemiVeemon could break, and after several attempts fell short of the mark his partner scrambled up on the desk to listen as Taichi laughed about ‘that time Yamato punched Taich in the face’, which sounded an awful lot like ‘that time Taichi punched Yamato’.

Finally, Miyako returned with Iori and Takeru in tow, each loaded with bulging bags of food. They set the bags on the counter and the digimon flocked towards them, nosing through the contents as Daisuke’s D-Terminal let out a shrill chirp. He pulled it from his pocket and flipped over the screen, grinning wildly as he saw the message was from Hikari.

To: Daisuke
From: Hikari
I’m sending you co-ordinates. Meet me here.

“Hey, coach, look!” he exclaimed as Hikari’s next message arrived with the promised co-ordinates. Taichi grinned and passed the D-Terminal to Koushiro who tapped the information in to his map.

“Ah! There she is. Although… that’s strange…”

“What?” Taichi asked, peering over his shoulder.

“She’s quite far away from Jou’s camp,” Koushiro answered. After a moment he pointed towards a blue dot several squares away from the pink one. “Although there is a terminal nearby. Maybe she got re-routed somehow.”

“Nefertimon’s a fast flyer,” Takeru offered. “Maybe they wanted a change of scenery?”

“There really weren’t that many scenic places around camp anyway,” Jou added. “Are there any Dark Towers?”

“If there are, we’ll knock ‘em down!” Daisuke exclaimed. DemiVeemon leapt to his feet with an enthusiastic cheer as Koushiro zoomed out to reveal a large area of white. The closest tower was several squares away from Hikari, and even further from the gate.

“Just one,” Koushiro answered, “Otherwise we’re tower-free for miles. It must be an area the Kaiser isn’t too concerned with.” Upamon bounded on to the desk for a closer look, and his eyes widened.

“I know why! I know why!” he said brightly, bouncing up and down. “That’s the Forbidden Valley of No Return!” Daisuke couldn’t stop the laugh that rose in his throat.

“Seriously? Who even comes up with a name like that?” Taichi leant closer to the screen and peered at the map.

“Weird place to hang out…” he muttered, glancing to Koushiro. “Anything else you can tell us?” Koushiro’s fingers flew across the keyboard as a series of boxes and walls of text and characters Daisuke didn’t recognise began popping up all over the place. After a pause, Koushiro shrugged.

“Looks quiet.”

“Good enough for me.” He turned to Daisuke with a nod, and once the others had gathered the bags and crowded around the school’s computer, Daisuke lifted his D-3 and the gate sucked them in.

The ground was hard underfoot; compacted sand speckled with grey and black and white. It spread for miles in hills and mounds, stretching to the horizon where it met a line of purple mountains no bigger than Daisuke’s thumb. Daisuke shivered as he drank it all in; the place was pleasant enough, with fluffy white clouds that floated lazily through a pink-orange-yellow sky overhead, and the open plain meant there was little chance of an ambush or an attack, but there was something pooling in Daisuke’s gut that left him feeling uneasy.

“It certainly feels forbidden, all right,” Miyako muttered, rubbing at her arms despite the warm breeze. “Who’d want to come here to hang out?”

“Who’d want to come here at all?” Iori asked quietly, his face pale.

“Who knows? Maybe they found an oasis up ahead?” Patamon suggested, though his voice was small and timid. Daisuke shivered again and stared down at his D-3. Hikari’s signal was coming from up ahead, though Daisuke could see nothing but grey sands. Still, he gripped the device tightly and set off. Taichi walked silently at his side, driving them forward, and Daisuke didn’t argue at the pace. The sooner they were out of the creepy valley, the better.

Miyako’s scream came from nowhere, and just as soon as it had started, it stopped. By the time Daisuke had turned, he found himself staring at the others who were staring down at the sand. Miyako and Hawkmon were gone.

“What happened?” Taichi demanded.

“I don’t know!” Sora gasped. “One minute they were there and then the ground just – ah!” Then Sora was gone too, leaving behind only the smallest of impressions in the sand as the ground swallowed her whole. Then it was Iori, Armadimon and Jou disappearing.

“What’s going on?!” Daisuke cried as the ground shuddered beneath them. Veemon leapt on to Daisuke’s shoulders as Taichi gripped his arm tightly.

“Koushiro, any idea what’s – Koushiro!” His question was cut short as Koushiro was sucked beneath the sand with a surprised yell. Takeru rushed forwards, his fingers snaring Koushiro’s to try and keep him safe, but then Takeru was gone too, closely followed by Patamon and Yamato. Taichi’s grip tightened.

“Whatever’s going on, we need to find out fast before-” The ground opened beneath him and suddenly Taichi was sinking in to the sand. Daisuke stumbled, puled towards the sinkhole by Taichi’s grip, and for a moment Daisuke wondered if Taichi might pull him under too until the strong fingers released him and the ground sealed itself above him before Daisuke could follow.

“No!” he cried. Scrambling to his hands and knees. Veemon leapt down in to the sand and started digging, only to find that his little paws were too small to make any real progress before the sand refilled itself. Daisuke grit his teeth and plunged his arms in to the sand, throwing fistfuls of sand over his shoulder, but no matter how fast or how deep he dug the sand flourished beneath him.

A cruel, high laugh rang through the air and Daisuke sat up, throwing a fistful of sand in to the empty sky.

“Come out and show yourself, you coward!” he hollered. “Where are they?! What have you done to them?!” The Kaiser laughed again and the sound echoed around him in a menacing chorus of Kaisers.

“Your friends are here with me,” the Kaiser answered. “Come and save them, if you can.” Daisuke’s D-3 erupted in a chorus of wailing signals as the other dots appeared beside Hikari’s, each blinking rapidly in distress.

“Veemon, c’mon!” he barked, scrambling to his feet. He took off at a sprint, kicking up dust and sand in his wake. He barely heard Veemon scrambling behind him over the pounding in his ears. His heart was in his throat. If Hikari’s signal was with the others’, then she must have been with the Kaiser since before they arrived. Daisuke had to stop himself from imagining what kind of cruelty the Kaiser could have inflicted upon her whilst he waited for them; if bruises and black eyes were how Hikari came away from brief run-ins, he was terrified to think of how badly he could have hurt her if she was his prisoner.

Soon the valley began to narrow, and as the towering cliffs closed in around them the ground became uneven. Smooth sands gave away to jagged boulders that rose in mounds and piles until Daisuke found himself facing a wall of rock. He scrambled up, cursing every time the rocks gave way beneath his feet as Veemon scrambled beside him. Together they dragged themselves over the last boulder, and Daisuke felt his blood run cold at the sight.

The valley ended with a series of jagged, rocky mountains big enough to be volcanoes. Halfway between Daisuke and the dead end, the two sides of the valley were tethered to each other by a narrow stone bridge bearing eight silhouettes – four humans and four digimon – dangling hundreds of feet above the jagged rocks below. The Kaiser was standing at the edge of the cliff in the shadow of a menacing Dark Tower, close enough for Daisuke to see the smirk on his face. Beneath him, in manacles similar to ones Daisuke remembered all too well, were the others – Taichi, Yamato, Sora, Koushiro and Jou – hanging limp and defenceless, heads bowed low against their chests.

“Let them go!” Daisuke demanded. The Kaiser laughed.

“I think not,” he retorted. “Your friends are at my mercy – and so, it would seem, are you.”

“Daisuke!” Hikari’s cried, her voice distant and strained. “Go! Save yourself!” Daisuke balled his hands in to fists.

“Run!” Takeru shouted. “You can still escape!”

“Don’t take your eyes off the Kaiser!” Iori advised sternly, his fierce determination shining in the eyes of Armadimon who was bound and gagged and dangling beside him while Miyako screamed:

“What are you waiting for?! Save me!” Daisuke swallowed thickly past the lump in his throat.

“Just – don’t worry! I’ll save you”

“You’d better!” Miyako screeched. “Because if I die here Motomiya, I swear I’ll haunt you for the rest of your life!”

“What are we gonna do, Daisuke?” Veemon asked. Daisuke grit his teeth.

“I’ll figure something out.”

“Well you’d best do it quickly,” the Kaiser taunted, “because your time is almost up. Awaken, Deltamon!” He cracked his whip and the ground began to tremble. Suddenly Daisuke found himself wishing the mountains had been volcanoes, because the digimon that exploded out of them was more terrifying than any explosion. Its body was immense, covered in rippling purple muscles. Its neck split in to three heads; the centre was naked purple scales, the one on the left was made completely of bone, and the third was plated in dull silver armour that ran from its head all the way down to its tail. As it threw back its heads with a roar, Daisuke saw the black band wrapped tightly around its waist.

“What luck you all happened to drop by today!” the Kaiser continued, his tone bright and conversational as if they’d just called on him for tea. “You see, it’s Deltamon’s dinner time, and I have been somewhat lax in keeping to his feeding schedule. I’m sure your friends would be a delicious offering to make up for my oversight. And look,” he added, gesturing to the limp bodies manacled to the bluff below him, “I even brought dessert.”

“I’ll never let you get away with this!” Daisuke bellowed, but the Kaiser merely laughed.

Let me? Who do you think you’re talking to? You don’t have a choice,” he said. He smirked and lifted his chin.. “If you like, you can beg for mercy.”

“What?” he asked. The Kaiser folded his arms and Daisuke glared. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it sounds like, or are you too simple to comprehend?” he sneered. “If you want any hope of saving your friends, then bow before me and grovel like the worm you are.”

“Daisuke, don’t do it!” cried Iori.

“It must be some sort of trap!” Hikari shouted. Takeru was quick to voice his agreement, whilst Miyako made another threat on Daisuke’s life if he didn’t hurry up and do something fast. Daisuke gripped his D-3 and stared at Veemon who grinned and nodded and clenched his fists, ready to fight.

But what could they do? Fladramon was strong, but he wasn’t fast enough to get to the bridge before Deltamon picked his first entrée. And even if he somehow did make it to the bridge in time, then what? The Kaiser truly had them at his mercy, and he clearly knew it. It was difficult to swallow  his pride past the lump in his throat, but Daisuke choked it down and dropped to his knees, bowing low enough to press his forehead to the ground amidst a protest of cries.

“Please,” he said. “Please let them go.”

“Good,” the Kaiser sneered, “but not good enough. Repeat after me: Please, master, spare my worthless friends.” Daisuke grit his teeth and sucked in a sharp breath, clenching his fists in the dirt to keep from exploding.

“Please… master,” he growled, forcing the word through gritted teeth, “spare my… spare my worthless friends.”

“Better,” the Kaiser laughed. “Now, Veemon, restrain him.”

“What?! Never! I’ll-”

“Veemon, do as he says,” Daisuke murmured. “If it’ll save the others then we have to obey.” He heard Veemon let out a low whine before shuffling closer and murmuring an apology as he gently placed his foot on the back of Daisuke’s head, pressing it firmly into the ground. The Kaiser’s cackle made Daisuke’s blood boil.

“Oh, how I love to see you squirm,” he snickered. “It’s s satisfying that perhaps I’ll take pity on you after all.” Daisuke sat up sharply, throwing Veemon in to a sharp spin. The Kaiser smirked and gestured to the bridge. “As you can see, Deltamon only has three heads, and I imagine that one human and one digimon would be a big enough meal for each. I will let you spare one of your friends, along with their partner. The others will make a delicious meal, and these five will remain my prisoners.”

“So I have to choose?” Dasuke exploded. Deltamon let out a roar and the fearful cries that reached his ears made his heart skip a painful beat. Daisuke looked at each of them in turn from gentle Hikari to whiny Miyako, who was now screeching profanities at him between screams of terror. Miyako might have been a pain in the ass, but he couldn’t stand by and let her be hurt, or worse.

Daisuke grit his teeth and shook his head. “I can’t do it! I can’t pick one over the others!”

“Well, I suggest you do, otherwise you’ll lose them all.” The Kaiser reached deep in to his pockets and withdrew something small and glistening; a tiny hourglass, no bigger than the palm of his hand. He flipped it over and smirked at Daisuke. “You have until the sand runs out to choose, or Deltamon eats them all.”

“Daisuke!” Hikari shouted, her voice firm. “We’ll be all right – he won’t really hurt us!” She glanced to Tailmon who was tied up beside her with a strip of cloth around her mouth and Tailmon nodded.

“Choose one of the others!” Takeru called. Miyako huffed with a scowl.

“Make me look like the bad guy, why don’t you?” she spat. “Fine! Don’t save me! Save someone else!”

“Whatever you decide to do, you have our full support,” Iori shouted, “but you’d better think fast before it’s too late!”

Daisuke swallowed hard around the knot in his throat. He wanted to save Hikari, but that was selfish; he would have been saving her for all the wrong reasons. He needed a plan; some way to get them all out of this. He didn’t need to save a friend – he needed to save an ally. Nefertimon was a good flyer, but he hadn’t seen any attacks that would be able to really help. The same went for Pegasusmon. So it came down to Holsmon or Digmon. The eagle was a good flyer, and his laser eyes could pick out tiny targets; good for cutting through ropes and then swooping to catch the others before they would hit the jagged rocks below, but Holsmon wouldn’t be able to catch them all at once which still left the problem of Deltamon. Digmon could destroy the ground at Deltamon’s feet long enough to cause a distraction, but then what of the others? Who was to say the Kaiser didn’t have some other trick up his sleeve? Hikari was certain he wouldn’t hurt them, but the scar on her cheek said otherwise.

“Tick-tock!” the Kaiser taunted. “Would you throw away all their lives?”

Miyako or Iori? Holsmon or Digmon? Rescue or distraction? Daisuke ground his teeth together, but it wasn’t enough to stop the sob that rose in his throat.

“I can’t do it! I can’t choose!”

“And so you doom them all.” The Kaiser grinned victorious as the final grains of sand trickled through the hourglass. Daisuke’s knees buckled and he crashed in to the sand as hot tears seared his cheeks. The Kaiser tossed the hourglass aside and lifted his whip, sparing one last glance at Daisuke. “Is this what you call friendship?”

The whip cracked. Daisuke clenched his eyes shut. Deltamon roared. Terrified screams filled the air. Daisuke tasted vomit.

“Incoming!”

Taichi’s voice made Daisuke’s eyes fly open and he twisted, finding several figures scrambling up over the rocks behind him. Daisuke gaped Holsmon and Pegasusmon swooped overhead, and when he glanced back to the narrow bridge it was in time to see Deltamon tilting sideways in to the sand as Digmon emerged from the fissure beneath his feet.

“What – but – how?!” Daisuke spluttered. Taichi reached him then, and he gripped Daisuke by the arm to haul him to his feet.

“It’s an illusion,” Koushiro said as he arrived with Sora, Yamato and Jou in tow. “The Kaiser’s trap sent us right back to the gate – we were never in any danger.” Daisuke wanted to be relieved, but something was niggling at the back of his mind. He glanced to Taichi who was staring ahead with a tense expression, his eyes darting this way and that. Daisuke turned, staring at the bridge in time to see his ‘friends’ shiver and morph into strange, tattered ghosts.

All except one.

“Hikari!” Taichi bellowed. She was still dangling perilously from the bridge with Tailmon at her side. The tremors that ran through the rock had set her swaying dangerously.

“Run!” she cried. “He must have something else planned!”

“Not a chance!” Taichi shouted as Daisuke turned to his partner.

“Let’s go!” Veemon nodded and bounded forwards, evolving to Fladramon without breaking his stride. Overhead the ghost-like digimon were swarming around Pegasusmon and Holsmon. Miyako had flattened herself against her partner’s back with Iori holding tightly to her, whilst Takeru was trying his best not to fall from Pegasusmon’s saddle. Fladramon leapt high towards Hikari who jerked her head behind her.

“Save Deltamon first!” Fladramon quickly changed course, twisting in mid-air as he wrapped himself in a blanket of fire. The attack hit the ring around his waist with pinpoint precision, fracturing it with a loud CRACK, and two of Digmon’s gleaming silver drills were all it took to make the ring crumble completely. Deltamon turned and bolted, but in the time it had taken to free him more of the ghosts had arrived, and they were surrounding Hikari and Tailmon like a barrier, swiping their claws at anyone who strayed too close.

“What are they?” Daisuke asked. Beside him, Yamato grunted.

“Bakemon.”

“Take them out!” Taichi ordered. Fladramon leapt into the air, but three of the Bakemon surged forwards and drove him back to the ground. Pegasusmon tried to slip in through the gap they left behind, but the others closed it too quickly and he was forced to twist sharply away, nearly unseating Takeru who had to flatten himself against his partner’s back. Holsmon tried to pierce through their defences, but the ghosts opened their mouths and released bellows of purple smoke that sent Holsmon to the ground where Miyako and Iori tumbled from his back, retching in to the sand. Daisuke’s stomach twisted; they were losing.

By now Pegasusmon had whirled around for another attack. He soared high in to the air and spread his wings wide, and the golden feathers turned black as night as stars rained down like meteors. The Bakemon screamed and howled and quickly scattered, swarming towards Pegasusmon and forcing him further from Hikari. Fladramon leapt towards Hikari again, but the Kaiser cracked his whip and one of the Bakemon doubled back to catch Fladramon in the gut and send him plummeting in to the rocks below.

“Persistent, aren’t you?” the Kaiser sneered. “But I’m afraid I still hold the ace.” He cracked his whip again and Hikari screamed.

Tailmon was falling, and fast. The ropes had given way, leaving her to drop like a stone until the last second when she twisted to land lightly on her feet, her head bowed low. She shivered, her fur rippling down her spine, and then she stood tall – revealing the terrible black spiral wrapped around her tiny arm.

“Tailmon, digivolve!”

“NO!”

Hikari and her scream were lost behind a wave of darkness as it swept in to smother Tailmon. It lifted her from the ground, twisting and contorting her shadow until she emerged as a woman shrouded in darkness, wrapped in tattered black clothing that clung to her like a second skin. Two shredded wings unfurled behind her as chains twisted their way around one of her arms. The other grew too long, and Tailmon’s claws twisted in to gleaming crimson talons. A patchwork hood of tattered leather wrapped itself around her head as silver-grey hair billowed down her back, and as the last of the darkness settled on to her skin she opened her glowing crimson eyes with a dangerous smirk.

“LadyDevimon!”

Hikari’s voice was hoarse as she screamed for her partner, writhing dangerously against the ropes that kept her tied to the bridge. LadyDevimon set her cruel eyes upon Hikari and her thin lips twisted in to a sneer.

“No you don’t!” Miyako snapped. “Holsmon!” Her partner was already in the air, but his sharp gust of wind barely ruffled LadyDevimon’s hair. Digmon fired two silver drills towards her, which she backhanded with ease. Pegasusmon swept towards her then, showering her with golden stars; she brushed them aside too, though it was done with a wince. Fladramon was looking to Daisuke, his expression uncertain, and Daisuke felt his heart hammering in his chest.

They were attacking Tailmon. Tailmon! Friendly, sharp, straight-talking Tailmon. Hikari’s partner. Did it truly only take a dark spiral for them to all turn on her? No wonder Hikari was screaming. Just the thought of Fladramon getting hurt was enough make Daisuke’s blood run cold.

“Daisuke!” Fladramon snapped. Daisuke jumped to attention, glancing around at the others. They were watching the battle unfold, though when Daisuke saw Taichi turning his head towards him he knew he had to do something.

And so he ran, sprinting up the cliff towards the Kaiser. He dragged himself onto the ledge, pushing his burning limbs to move as he threw himself at the Kaiser. He balled his fist in the boy’s shirt and pushed, hard. Hard enough to send them both toppling back down in to the ravine. Daisuke tightened his grip, keeping the Kaiser in arm’s reach as they fell. The Kaiser wrapped his fingers around Daisuke’s, trying to pry them away, but Daisuke’s iron grip was powered by adrenaline and fear and rage.

“I will not lose to a child like you!” the Kaiser spat. Something collided with Daisuke’s shoulder and then the Kaiser planted his feet in Daisuke’s stomach. The kick sent him flying, ripping his fingers from the Kaiser’s shirt as he sailed through the air, skidding to a halt several feet away. Daisuke rolled to his knees, coughing dust and grit in to the dirt.

“You’re a kid too!” Daisuke spat. “Just like me-”

“I am nothing like you!” the Kaiser spat as he found his feet. He straightened and dusted himself down with a sneer. “Luckily, thanks to my trump card, I still get to settle one score today. Be warned, Motomia, you won’t have another chance to make me look like a fool. LadyDevimon!” She swooped overhead, her crimson eyes flashing dangerously as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Darkness wave!” She spread her arms wide, creating a wave shadow that flew forwards as a surge of chittering bats. They sought their targets and swarmed around them, and the pained cries that came from within the swarm made Daisuke sick. Holsmon was the first to fall, reverting to Hawkmon as he plummeted towards the grouned. Next was Digmon who, as Armadimon, curled himself in to a tight ball and refused to move even as Iori wrapped him tightly in his arms. Veemon collapsed heavily in to the dirt with a pained cry, and Patamon crashed down beside him a moment later with Takeru landing heavily beside them. The Kaiser threw back his head and laughed, turning towards Hikari who was still hanging perilously from the bridge. “Let this be a lesson to you! Do not cross me, little girl. As for you-” He turned sharply back to Daisuke. “Consider this a final warning. Today you embarrassed me for the last time.” Daisuke frowned.

“Embarrassed you… What do you…” He didn’t mean to glance down, but once he did he found he couldn’t look away as his eyes took in the growing patch of crimson on the boy’s lower shin. Daisuke stood slowly, realising for the first time that he and the Kaiser were the same height. Same build, too. Probably the same age. Which meant…

“It’s not possible…” Daisuke breathed. “You’re not… you can’t be…” The Kaiser’s glare quickly turned in to a furious sneer.

“Not as stupid as you look, it would seem,” he hissed. “Go ahead. Say it.”

“I-Ichijouji Ken…” Daisuke breathed. Ichijouji lifted his hands to his face and ripped away his goggles, and suddenly Daisuke wondered how he hadn’t seen it sooner.

“Well, Motomiya, you’ve got me all figured out.” He lifted his hand and clicked his fingers and a shadow swooped overhead as an Airdramon slithered from the clouds. “Judging by the current state of affairs, I’d say my work here is done. For now, at least.” He leapt high in to the air and the Airdramon appeared beneath him in time to sweep him far out of reach. The Aidramon hovered near the clouds as the Kaiser gave one last command. “LadyDevimon! Finish the job!” He clapped his hands before disappearing in to the clouds.

LadyDevimon turned towards Hikari with a hunger in her eyes. Voices were screaming her name, but none were loud enough to cover Hikari’s terrified cries as her partner drew closer. Daisuke called to Veemon, but his partner was still curled in a tight ball and shivering furiously with Patamon’s ear draped over his shoulders, and Daisuke was left to watch helplessly as LadyDevimon’s crimson talons wrapped around Hikari.

They both screamed. The sound made Daisuke’s heart stop. LadyDevimon’s back arched as though in pain and then Hikari exploded with a brilliant white light that made Daisuke yell and bury his face in his elbow to keep from being blinded. He squinted towards Veemon and Patamon, surprised to find them staring straight into the light as it sank into their skin, erasing the bruises and scrapes of their fight.

The screams reached a peak and the light pulsed before disappearing. LadyDevimon snatched her hand away, staring at Hikari a mixture of fury and fear. She unleashed a furious scream before surging forwards, using her talons to slice the rope as she darted past Hikari and disappeared up in to the clouds as Hikari hurtled towards the ground, arms still bound tightly to her side. A flash of light and suddenly Takeru and Pegasusmon were tearing towards her at lightning speed. Takeru snatched her from the air just in time, and she fell limp in the saddle as he pulled her to safety, tearing the ropes from around her arms and letting them fall to the ground as Pegasusmon banked gently around. The others converged on Daisuke and Pegasusmon made a beeline towards him, landing gently several paces away.

Hikari slid down from the saddle and landed on shaky legs, her eyes fixed on the ground. Takeru dropped down beside her, placing his hand on her shoulder as he murmured her name, but she didn’t seem to hear him. Daisuke desperately wanted to run to her side – to hold her tight and tell her that everything would be all right – but his feet were rooted to the ground and his tongue was too big for his mouth. Taichi slowly stepped forwards, and Takeru stepped back.

“Hikari,” Taichi said softly. She lifted her head, red-rimmed eyes spilling tears that raced down her cheek and fell on to her boots.

A slight tremble in her knees was all the warning they had before she crumpled before them. Taichi surged forwards, catching her in his arms as he fell to his knees and held her tight against his chest. The cracks in Hikari’s voice were more prominent than ever as she clutched at Taichi and sobbed in to his chest. Daisuke couldn’t bear to look and he quickly turned away, only to find himself looking at Veemon who was watching him with a dark expression that was almost accusing, as if it was his fault that things had turned out the way they had.

Perhaps it was.


Eventually Hikari stopped crying. Taichi almost wished she hadn’t; the vacant silence that replaced the sobs was somehow worse. There was no question about her coming home now, and Taichi was grateful when the others didn’t split off to try and find their way back to Jou’s camp. Takeru had taken up silent vigil on Hikari’s other side, with Patamon hovering silently between them, and Yamato followed a few paces behind. Jou was walking with Koushiro and Sora, who was doing her best to comfort Miyako who looked to be on the verge of tears herself as she held Hawkmon close. Iori and Armadimon were on Jou’s other side, while a sullen Daisuke brought up the rear with Veemon at his heels.

After sneaking out of the empty school they had split apart at a nearby intersection. Despite their protests, Taichi had managed to convince Daisuke, Miyako and Iori that it would be best for them to go home. Eleven was a crowd, and fifteen (when they included the digimon) was practically a riot, especially given that it was so late. Taichi was grateful when they didn’t argue too much, though there was something about Daisuke’s expression that troubled him.

One thing at a time, he thought as he watched the trio disappear around the corner.

Jou’s family came first. Koushiro had kept the most contact with the family, speaking with Jou’s older brother, Shuu, occasionally over the years. He led the way to the Kido apartment, waving to the doorman who welcomed him with a familiar smile despite the late hour. They followed Koushiro in to a spacious elevator that was just big enough for eleven humans (and one digimon, who perched atop Takeru’s head once the doors closed). Taichi glanced to Hikari as the elevator began to rise; a splash of colour had returned to her cheeks, and when Takeru muttered something quietly to her she managed to answer his grin with a faint half-smile. Taichi turned his attention to Jou then, noting how he was staring intensely up at the display, watching the numbers rise. Taichi tracked a bead of sweat as it trailed down Jou’s temple.

“Relax,” he said, nudging Jou with his elbow. Jou tried to smile, but Taichi thought he looked more like he was going to be sick. On his other side, Sora reached out and gave his arm an encouraging squeeze.

“I’m sure they’ll be excited to have you back home again,” she said with a smile. The corners of Jou’s lips twitched a little, but then the doors opened and his face paled several shades as they stepped out in to the hall. They followed Koushiro until he came to the Kido apartment door, and he knocked gently. The silence that followed seemed to stretch for an eternity until the door finally swung open to reveal Shuu.

The family resemblance was undeniable, right down to the way Shuu plucked his glasses of his nose and cleaned them on his shirt as began a well-rehearsed speech about how his father, Dr Kido, was at work and if they would like to make an appointment he’d be happy to see them at his office during his clinic hours. He slid his glasses back on to his nose then, and his eyes bulged.

“It can’t be…” he whispered, as much to himself as anyone else. “It’s not… Jou? Is it really you?” Jou had nodded and Shuu had pulled him in to a fierce hug. He invited them all in for tea but Koushiro politely declined on their general behalf. It was late, and the brothers likely had some catching up to do whilst they had other stops to make. Shuu had gripped Koushiro’s hands firmly, shaking them fervently and thanking him profusely before ushering Jou inside the apartment and bidding them all a quiet goodnight.

As they stepped back on to the street, Koushiro’s phone buzzed with a call from his mother. He glanced apologetically to Taichi who waved him away with a smile, and Koushiro gave them a quiet goodnight (and good luck) before heading home with promises to his mother that he wouldn’t be out much longer.

The next stop was Natsuko and Hiroaki, and Taichi was too exhausted to try and pretend he did not know them well. He knocked lightly on the door before fishing his keys out of his pocket and letting himself in, ignoring the confused looks from Yamato and Takeru. As a group they slipped off their shoes as Taichi called into the apartment, and there came a general murmuring and rustling before Natsuko appeared.

“Taichi, is everything all right? We weren’t expecting-” She stopped abruptly as she took them in, and her hands flew to her face. Taichi was barely able to pull Hikari out of the way as Natsuko swept her sons in to a tight hug.

“Hiroaki!” she cried. “Hiroaki, come here! You have to see – Hurry!” Frantic footsteps approached and an exhausted Hiroaki skidded around the corner, straightening his hair and his rumpled shirt. He too froze in wordless shock, and it took Yamato’s quite murmur of “Dad” to break him from his stupor. He pulled Yamato from his mother’s arms, crushing his son against his chest, and Yamato held him tight. Then he was slipping an arm around Takeru’s shoulders and Natsuko was squeezing Yamato. Taichi tried to slip away then, but Hiroaki and Natsuko quickly dragged him in to the hug too, taking a moment to thank him before turning their attention to his sister.

“You must be Hikari,” Natsuko said gently, taking her hands. “Taichi’s told us so much about you. I’m so glad we finally get to meet you properly.” Hikari smiled softly and ducked her head.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” she said, and when she looked up a second time her smile was entirely too convincing. It made Taichi uncomfortable.

“It’s been a long day,” Takeru said, pulling his mother back a little. “We should let Hikari and Taichi go home, and we have a lot to catch up on.” Taichi shot him a grateful look and Takeru gave him a smile.

“Of course, of course,” Natsko murmured, wiping the tears from beneath her eyes. Hiroaki reached for his keys and Taichi waved the gesture away.

“You should stay here. It’s not far, and it’s warm and dry out,” he said. Hiroaki gave him a strange look before glancing back to his sons, and the keys fell back in to the bowl.

Sora’s apartment above her mother’s flower shop was situated almost halfway between Natusko and Hiroaki’s apartment and Taichi’s, if you detoured a couple of blocks. They walked her home, a tense silence hanging between them until they reached the flower shop where Sora asked them to wait outside for her. Taichi glanced to Hikari who offered him a small smile as Sora ducked inside, emerging a moment later with a small bundle of flowers – lavender and irises. She passed them to Hikari and gave her a tight hug.

“I’m right here if you need me,” she said softly, smoothing Hikari’s hair and straightening her rumpled cardigan. Hikari smiled and Sora’s face fell just a little before she turned to Taichi, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek before bidding them goodnight.

All too soon they were climbing the stairs to their final destination: home. Hikari hadn’t said a word since Sora had left them, and the brittle smile she’d worn as Sora had hugged her goodnight was all but gone now as she clutched the small bundle of flowers in a white-knuckle grip. Taichi wished he could say something to break the silence, but the closer he got to their apartment the more he realised that the night was not about to get better. He hadn’t had time to prepare her for what was waiting within their small apartment.

They paused by the door and he watched as Hikari ran her fingers over their nameplate. It hadn’t changed, and neither had the doormat, though the once-pink flowers in the corner were now a ruddy sort of grey. He heard Hikari take a shallow, shuddering breath.

“Hey,” he murmured softly. “How are you holding up?” She turned towards him, and the redness of her glassy eyes made Taichi’s stomach twist. She offered him a ghost of a smile.

“I’m ready to go home.” The words were like a knife through his heart and he tried not to grimace. Judging by the way Hikari’s face fell, he did a terrible job. “What is it?”

“I… I didn’t really get a chance to tell you, but…” The words caught in his throat. He never had figured out exactly how to break the news to her. When he’d asked Sora for her advice over lunch (had that really only been a few hours ago?) she’d suggested avoiding the small details. He swallowed thickly, wracking his brain for the right words. “Mom is… she’s been… she’s not well right now. She’s okay!” he added quickly at the fear that flashed across her face, only to hastily backpedal. “Well, I mean, she’s not okay, but she’s not… y’know… She’s just… a little out of sorts at the moment.” Fear melted to confused concern, and Taichi grimaced; he really had screwed this up. He opened the door with a heavy sigh and led the way inside.

The low hum of the television greeted them as they took off their shoes. Suddenly he was grateful that his father was out of town; perhaps handling their parents one at a time would be for the best. Hikari hovered nervously by his shoulder as they walked further in to the apartment, and Taichi didn’t miss the way she sucked in a sharp breath as he turned on the lights. Their mother seemed more skeletal than ever as she sat staring at the television, the harsh light of some evening repeat casting over-saturated shadows across the hollows of her face. Taichi threw his soccer bag on to top of the washing machine before heading in to the kitchen, dropping his schoolbag on a chair.

“You hungry?” HIkari shook her head and he raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

“Really, Taichi, I’m not.” Her eyes were fixed on their mother. “Does mom need to eat?” Taichi nodded, not quite ready to explain that she probably wouldn’t touch anything they offered her, but the untouched noodle salad at her side seemed to speak for itself. Hikari slowly picked her way across the lounge to kneel before her, taking her papery hands gently in her own.

“Hi mom,” she said softly. “I’m home.”

She continued to stare at the television, and Taichi felt his eyes burning as he watched his sister’s persistent smile. It didn’t falter, not even for a second, and it was firmly in place when their mother finally blinked and slowly tilted her head away from the screen.

“Hikari?” Her voice was faint and raspy, and she blinked several times more before lifting a hand to run it over Hikari’s cheek. Hikari cupped a hand around their mother’s fingers, leaning in to the touch as her smile brightened.

“You didn’t eat your dinner.” (Taichi didn’t have the heart to tell her that the food had been there since before he’d left for school that morning.) “Will you eat some now?” Their mother’s eyes flicked from Hikari’s face to the bowl and back again, and slowly she reached out to pick up her chopsticks. They trembled against each other as her mother attempted to scoop up a mouthful of noodles and they quickly fell from her grip, clattering against the bowl. The sound was deafening and Taichi flinched, but Hikari was undeterred. She picked up the chopsticks and cradled the bowl infront of her mother’s face.

“Here, let me help,” she said, picking up a piece of wilted lettuce. Taichi wasn’t sure if it was just the fluorescent light from the TV behind her, but for a moment he could have sworn Hikari was shining as she fed their mother small, patient mouthfuls of salad and noodles. With each mouthful their mother seemed to regain just a fraction of colour, eating almost half the bowl before refusing any more, despite Hikari’s gentle protests.

“Medicine,” she croaked. “Water… medicine…” Hikari stared at Taichi with a lost look in her eyes and he jumped from his stupor, rushing to the cabinet where he kept his mother’s medication. He took the daily pill pot from the shelf and filled a glass of water. His mother took them both with shaking hands and swallowed all of her pills in a single gulp.

Maybe things were going to get better.

Together they tucked their mother in to bed. With her sleeping pills, she was soon out like a light, and as Taichi followed Hikari back in to the lounge he spied the time on the kitchen clock. The whistle-stop tour of Odaiba followed by salad and the pills had taken them well in to the early hours of the morning. For a moment he simply watched as Hikari explored their apartment, running her fingers over the couch and staring at the pictures on the mantle until Taichi failed to stifle a loud yawn.

“You should get some sleep,” she said softly, turning to him with a smile that made his heart ache. “You have school tomorrow-”

“I’m not going,” he said firmly. Hikari shook her head.

“You can’t miss it because of me,” she said. When he tried to object, she added: “Didn’t Sora say you had to keep pretending that nothing had changed?”

But everything had changed. Hikari was home now, and without her partner, and Taichi couldn’t bear the thought of her spending her first day back on earth by herself. As if she had read his mind, she smiled and said: “I’ll be fine for a day, and then it’s the weekend, right?” He wanted to argue, but there was something in the stubborn lift of her chin that told him his efforts would be futile. So instead he conceded with a sigh and held open the door to the bedroom for her.

Her breath hitched as she entered, and for a moment she hovered in the doorway, staring at the spot where their bunkbeds used to be. Now there was just a small single bed. Her gaze moved to the sleeping bag in the middle of the floor before travelling to the bookshelf. It was split almost perfectly down the middle; Taichi had swept all of his clutter to the left, leaving the right side almost completely empty aside from Hikari’s crest which sat on the top shelf which gave a gentle pulse of light.

“It’s half-empty,” she whispered.

“It’s only half-mine,” he answered. She ran her fingers over the empty shelves before reaching in to her pockets to withdraw her D-3 and D-Terminal which she placed beside her crest. “Been meaning to ask – how did you get your crest back after it was destroyed?”

“It’s not real,” she answered. “It’s one of Myotismon’s copies.”

“Oh.”

In a way he was almost glad. He knew the powers of the crests were still inside them – had always been inside them – but sometimes he missed having the tag around his neck. Hikari stifled a sniffle, and he didn’t miss the way she rubbed at her eye.

“Tailmon thought I might be able to get back home if we went to Myotismon’s castle, but the portal was closed and we couldn’t figure out how to open it. We were looking around for clues when we found a couple of them lying around.” She took the crest in hand and ran her thumb across it. The pulsing pink light made the tear on her cheek sparkle.

“Hikari-”

“You should sleep.” She placed the crest back on the shelf and turned to him with a small smile. The tear was gone. “You don’t want to be tired at school tomorrow.”

“I don’t have to-”

“Of course you do. You have to pretend like things are normal.” As if there had ever been anything normal about her disappearance or the fact that they had grown up apart. He sighed and rubbed a tired hand over his face.

“You take the bed. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to make it this morning, but everything’s clean-”

“I’ll take the sleeping bag,” she said firmly. He blinked at her and she smiled back. “It looks comfy.”

“Not as comfy as the bed,” he countered. “We don’t even have a futon.”

“It’s more than I had in the Digital World.” His stomach twisted painfully at the casual reminder, but before he could protest again she had shimmied inside, still in Miyako’s sundress. Too tired to argue, Taichi fished out an oversized t-shirt from his drawers and threw it across to her before heading to the bathroom. By the time he returned, Miyako’s sundress was folded neatly on the bottom shelf and Hikari had truly burrowed in to the sleeping bag. Her eyes peered out at him as he turned off the light, and as he slipped in to bed he heard her whisper a quiet, “Goodnight, big brother” that made his heart soar.

Sleep was difficult to come by. Had been for a while now. Ever since seeing SkullGreymon he’d been haunted by vivid dreams – memories of their last adventure that soon evolved in to nightmares. Now when he closed his eyes Taichi found himself facing LadyDevimon, and the sight of her cruel smile sent a shiver down his spine.

They’d fought a LadyDevimon before – one of Piemon’s Nightmare Soldiers. In the end, it had been Angewomon’s holy powers that had defeated her; powers that were now unavailable. He supposed HolyAngemon might stand a chance, but judging by their last fight with MetalGreymon the Kaiser’s spires didn’t just corrupt a digimon’s data, they supercharged it. And that was if Patamon could even still evolve to his Perfect form. He certainly wouldn’t be able to if any of the Kaiser’s Dark Towers were around. The armoured digimon were their only hope, it seemed, and the Kaiser had managed to bring their number down to four.

At first he thought he’d imagined the sniffle. Perhaps it was a rustle of the sleeping bag, or the whisper of Hikari’s hair against the pillow, but then he heard a whimper and he froze. He heard it again, muffled this time but there nonetheless, and he slowly sat up.

“Hikari?”

Silence. He wondered if she was even breathing. He slipped out of bed and tiptoed towards her, picking out the shadow of the sleeping bag against the slivers of city light that filtered through his curtains. Wordlessly he scooped her in to his arms and carried her back to his bed, still cocooned in the sleeping bag. When he lay down beside her she curled in to his chest and he placed his chin atop the hood of the sleeping bag.

“It hurts,” she whispered, and Taichi knew she wasn’t talking about the chafing from the ropes or the bruises on her side from where Takeru had caught her. She was talking about the tight pain in her heart at the thought of her partner suffering with the Kaiser; a pain Taichi knew all too well.

“We’ll get her back,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and squeezing gently. She stifled another sniffle and nodded against her chest, and he clenched his eyes shut, holding her tightly. “It’s okay to be scared and hurt. I know I am. Be as brave as you need to be around everyone else, but please don’t pretend around me.” Hikari’s breath hitched several times before her walls finally crumbled, and all Taichi could do was hold her close until she cried herself to sleep.

Chapter Text


SETTLING IN


Beep-beep-beep-beep.

Beep-beep-beep-beep.

Beep-beep-b-

A fist emerged from beneath the blankets to slam against the snooze button as Taichi emerged from beneath the covers with a groan to glare at his alarm clock. His restless night had ended all too soon, and he grimaced at the rays of sunlight that poured through the gap in his curtains. He pulled the blanket back over his head with a groan and rolled on to his side, burying his face in the crook of his elbow.

Hikari.

His eyes shot open as the events of the day before hit him like a train and he sat up, throwing the covers back to look around the room. The sleeping bag lay neatly on the floor as though it had never been used by anyone but Miko who had curled herself in its hood. She looked up at him with a disgruntled chirp before stretching and rolling over. His eyes travelled to the bookshelf where the Crest of Light sat alone and dull on the top shelf, and his stomach knotted.

Had it all been a dream?

Something was beeping. The microwave. The microwave was beeping. Either his mother had made a miraculous recovery, or… He scrambled out of bed, tripping over the blankets that pooled around his ankles and stumbling in to the kitchen, only to stop and stare in surprise.

The kitchen was a sight for sore eyes. The counters were covered in oats and splashes of milky water and half-filled bowls of what Taichi assumed was supposed to be porridge. A pan sat on the stove with a wooden spoon stuck straight up in the air; an attempt which seemed to have been abandoned in favour of the microwave. The bowls closest to his oat-covered sister were looking gradually more edible, but that didn’t stop her from poking a still-steaming attempt with a deep frown while her latest bowl span slowly in the microwave.

When she finally spied him she straightened stiffly, a blush rising to her cheeks. She cast her eyes about the mess and tucked a lock of oat-covered hair behind her ear, stammering various half-formed greetings until she was cut off by the shrill beeping of the microwave.

“I wanted to make you breakfast before you went to school,” she said, setting the bowl on the counter and blowing on her fingertips. She stared at the bowl with a disappointed sigh. “I thought I could remember how to do it… you always made it look so easy…” Taichi laughed as he grabbed a spoon from the draining board and helped himself to a mouthful despite Hikari’s protests. After initially searing the roof of his mouth he swallowed the scalding lump and smiled to hide the tears in his eyes.

“It’s great!” The words came out in a pained wheeze and Hikari’s face crumpled in dismay.

“It’s awful,” she moaned, slouching against the counter. Taichi nudged her gently with his shoulder.

“It’s not that bad,” he said, heading for the cabinet. “It just needs… a-ha!” With a grin he withdrew a bottle of squeezable honey which he lavished on top and stirred in thoroughly. His second mouthful was almost heavenly, and Hikari’s face lit up with a smile.

She brushed off his attempts to help her tidy up, making him sit and eat while she gathered the bowls and debris from around the kitchen. Once he’d finished she took his bowl and gave him another for their mother who had taken up her usual seat infront of the television. Taichi managed to convince her to take a few tepid mouthfuls followed by her morning medications, which she took without a fuss. By the time he returned to the kitchen, Hikari had returned it to its previous spotless state.

“Does she need any medicine at lunch?” she asked.

“No, just morning and night.” She smiled and nodded, taking the cold remains of their mother’s porridge and cleaning the bowl in to the bin before washing it in the sink. He watched her carefully, unable to ignore the shiver in her shoulders or the light sniffle as she placed the bowl on the draining board.

“I’ll call in sick,” he blurted. She turned to him, drying her hands with a confused frown. “School would understand. I could tell them mum’s not feeling so great-”

“You’re not skipping school for me,” she said sternly, and the resemblance to their mother was painful. “I’ll stay here today while you’re at school, and then I can come meet you after so we can go to the Digital Wor-” He gripped her shoulders and steered her back to the bedroom, casting a worried glance at their mother. She was still staring at the television, giving no indication that she had heard the words, and Taichi gave a sigh of relief as he closed the door behind them.

“We’re not going today,” he said. Hikari opened her mouth to argue but he cut her off. “Hikari, you just got home! We need to get you stuff! A bed, for starters-”

“The sleeping bag is fine.”

“Toothbrush, clothes, shoes… We’ll need to organise a tutor and get you caught up so you can go back to school, because they’ll ask too many questions if you show up knowing nothing-”

“I don’t know nothing-

“That’s not what I meant.” He sighed heavily and squeezed her hands, trying to find the words. “These last few years have been… difficult. It was easier for the others, their parents said they went missing at summer camp, but you… you never went. You just went missing. They tried saying that mum and dad weren’t… that they couldn’t… they wanted to take me away.” He remembered the questions, the investigations, the frequent visitors to the apartment who made notes on the cleanliness of the bathroom and what was in the fridge, poking their heads in to Taichi’s room and trying to blame his father for the mess. Hikari squeezed his hands and he felt a rush of warmth race up his arms.

“I’ll look through the phone book and see if I can find a tutor,” she said. “But you have to go to school. You’ll need to be leaving soon, right?” He glanced at the clock – he’d need to be leaving in ten minutes if he stood a chance of getting there on time, and he’d barely begun to prepare for the day.

“You sure you don’t want me to stay home with you today?” he asked. “I really won’t be missing much-”

“I’ll be fine,” she said, and her smile was a little too convincing. “The last few days… There’s been a lot going on. I’ll probably spend most of today sleeping.”

“Hikari-”

“You’re going to be late.” He felt her trying to steer him towards the door but he pulled back, keeping them in place and fixing her with a firm look. “I’m fine, Taichi. I’m just tired.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” she answered. He chewed the inside of his cheek before sighing. He’d already missed a few days of school for the trip to Odawara, and his grades weren’t exactly anything to brag about. It probably was for the best that he didn’t miss any more of his classes, and if Hikari was going to spend the day sleeping… He relented with a sigh and placed a kiss on her forehead.

He ran to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth and rake his fingers through his hair (he had neither the time nor the patience to try and tackle it with a comb) before throwing on his uniform. He hadn’t even unpacked his schoolbag from the night before, and he bit back a groan at the incomplete homework assignments he’d planned to tackle after the game (Sora was right; he really needed to stop leaving them to the last minute). He was shrugging on his blazer as he made his way through the lounge, and Hikari met him by the door with a small paper bag.

“I made you lunch,” she said as he slipped on his shoes. “It’s not much, but there wasn’t much in the fridge. We should go grocery shopping after school.”

“I’m not sure we’ll have time,” he said, taking the lunch and slipping it in to his schoolbag. “We have to get stuff for you-”

“You need to eat.”

“I have lunch money-”

“You’re going to be late!” With a final curse and a kiss upon her brow, Taichi shot out of the apartment and sprinted to school. He managed to slide in to his seat seconds before the bell, and he didn’t miss the curious look that Sora gave him as Mr Tanaka made his way through the attendance register. He reached in to his bag, wondering if he would have time to complete at least one of his assignments before his first class started, and his fingers brushed the lunch bag. He pulled it in to his lap and peered inside.

Hikari had pulled together an assortment of snacks and some leftovers from the fridge. Tucked between two snack packs was a small piece of folded paper, just like their mother used to do. Inside the note, in shaking, uncertain lines was a small drawing of his crest followed by a short message:

Have a good day at school.


Jou set the cup back in its saucer with trembling hands. Even after his seventh cup, the smooth porcelain handle felt strange in his grip and tea didn’t quite taste the same as it did out of his whittled wooden mug. The apartment was too still and too silent; the air thick and stagnant around him. The biscuits were too rich, and despite his hunger Jou was still makig his way through his first Bisuko.

He stifled a yawn and set the half-eaten biscuit back on the saucer. He hadn’t slept. Shuu had spent the night probing him with questions, listening to Jou’s stories and the developments he’d made in the self-created field of Digital Medicine. Jou had managed to ask a handful of questions of his own, and Shuu had given him a handful of answers before returning the focus to Jou. Shin was doing well – he was studying medicine at Tokyo Medical and Dental University on a scholarship, and had just been accepted on a summer internship programme at Takanawa Hospital just across the river in Shinigawa where he would be working under their father.

Shuu meanwhile had confided in Jou that he was no longer studying medicine, but rather anthropology. When Jou had asked how he had managed to get their father’s permission to change subjects, Shuu had laughed nervously and said that he was still figuring out how to tell him – and that he needed to figure it out before he moved to Kyoto in the autumn to study full-time under Professor Takenouchi, who happened to be Sora’s father (they’d met sometime after the others had returned home, back when there was still hope of making their way back to the Digital World, and through making small talk with the Professor he’d realised that perhaps medicine wasn’t his true calling after all).

Jou was alone for now. Shuu had left sometime before dawn to collect their father from the end of his night shift, having called ahead with a message for him not to catch his usual train. Jou had tried to make himself comfortable, but he felt like a stranger. It didn’t matter that the furniture was the same – down to the scratch on the heavy oak table from where he’d once dropped a heavy knife – or that the apartment had the same musky smell of his father’s cologne – oaky and smoky – or that the pictures on the mantelpiece were the same; this wasn’t the small apartment that they had grown up in, and Jou felt like an outsider. He’d moved a couple of times as a kid, and he knew another move had been coming, but somehow he’d never imagined that they would have moved without him.

He was too young to remember the first move. The apartment he’d been born in to (quite literally, as his mother had gone in to labour during dinner) had been small enough with two children, and with three it quickly became unmanageable. He’d been six months old when they moved to Hikarigoaka, and they’d lived there for eight years until the battle of Parrotmon and Greymon. The overpass had been destroyed, and the structural damage had spiderwebbed in to their apartment building. They’d stayed with relatives for little over a year before his father had started looking for somewhere new.

It was then that Jou’s mother got sick. Jou remembered the coughing and the crying; the late nights and the early morning trips to the emergency room. He remembered all-too-well the feeling of coming home without her, and crying to Shuu because he’d aced an English test she’d stayed up all night helping him study for. The apartment had never been the same without her, and neither had their father. They stayed there for less than a year after that, and Jou remembered overhearing his father talking to Shin about moving again. It was time they all had their own rooms, he’d said, and Shin had eagerly agreed. Not a word was said the next day, but within the week Jou had been enrolled in the summer camp that would change his life.

The new apartment in the Odaiba mansion complex was much larger, complete with a generous kitchen and lounge, a master bedroom, two smaller rooms and a small box room that had been converted in to a study. But between the lush carpets and the intercom system and the concierge at reception, it felt more like a hotel than a home, and suddenly Jou found himself wishing he could be eight years old again, living in their tiny apartment in Hikarigaoka; wishing that he’d never left his bed to look at the monsters in the street.

The key turned in the lock and Jou’s heart stopped. He slowly rose from his seat an wiped his sweaty palms on Taichi’s shorts as he heard Shuu enter, closely followed by their father. The sound of his voice made Jou’s heart restart with a painful lurch, and his glasses slipped down his nose as Shuu led his father in to the lounge.

Kido Masaharu was exactly as Jou remembered, right down to the deep furrow in the middle of his brow. He was tall and wiry, like his sons, and his blue-black hair was decorated with streaks of grey at his temples. Nimble fingers were rubbing at the paper creases around his eyes, dancing beneath his glasses, and he didn’t see Jou until he had set his briefcase down by the coffee table and turned towards the kitchen.

Silence blanketed the apartment, broken only by the steady ticking of the clock on the mantel. Shuu bounced nervously in Jou’s peripheral vision, twisting his hands together anxiously as he glanced back and forth between them. Jou was starting to feel lightheaded (although how much of that was staying awake well past his usual bedtime with no food, he couldn’t quite tell). He swallowed thickly and dislodged his voice from where it had gotten stuck behind the knot in his throat.

“Dad-” As soon as he’d found it, he’d lost it again. What to say? What could he say? His father had never been a man of many words – his mother used to joke that Jou had taken them as a child, given his tendency to ramble when he was nervous. And so he let the silence hang between them, barely daring to blink as his father studied him from head to toe, before doing the last thing Jou had expected him to do.

He gave Jou a hug.

It wasn’t that his father was unloving (though he’d often joked that their mother had a heart big enough for both of them), but he’d never been a particularly physical man. He’d never rejected hugs, but he was never the one to initiate them. Jou had almost forgotten what it felt like.

“You’re home.” His father’s voice rumbled in his ear, and suddenly the room didn’t feel like such a hotel anymore.

They moved in to the lounge and Shuu brought through more tea and biscuits, though they sat untouched on the coffee table between them as they continued to stare at Jou. He tried not to squirm under the attention.

“So… what’s new?” he asked with a feeble smile. Their father leaned forward to pour himself a cup of tea. Shut cleared his throat.

“Well, dad was promoted to Head of Diagnostic Medicine last year, which is when we moved here to be closer to the hospital. It’s a good job but long hours, right dad?” Their father nodded slowly. Jou caught Shuu’s eye and Shuu shrugged. “I guess I’ve caught you up with Shin’s news. He’ll be happy you’re home-”

“We’ll call him next weekend,” their father interrupted. “Let him get his exams out of the way first.” Shuu looked like he wanted to argue, but quickly thought better of it. Instead he flashed Jou a smile.

“So, how does it feel to be home again?”

“It’s strange,” he answered. “I’d forgotten how noisy the city was. In the Digital World, I lived in the woods a lot, so it was nice and quiet.” For the most part, he thought.

“Do you reckon you’ll miss it?” Shuu asked. Jou shrugged and pushed his glasses back up his nose.

“I suppose I will,” he said with a fond smile as his thoughts wandered towards Gomamon and Floramon and little Relemon who hadn’t quite figured out that humans weren’t supposed to have mon at the end of their names. “But it’s not like I’m stuck here like I was stuck there. We’ll be heading back in a few days because-”

“No.”

His father’s voice was firm; a voice that Jou had heard many times in his life. It said, in no uncertain terms, that there would be no discussing the matter. Jou looked to his brother, but Shuu only glanced down at his hands.

“I can’t just stay here,” Jou countered. “I have to-”

“You are not returning to that place, and that is the end of it.”

“But-”

No!” he roared, rising to his feet. The teacup and saucer flew from his lap and shattered against the coffee table. “I lost you once to that place and I will not lose you again!”

“It’s not like that this time!” Jou argued. He stood, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “We won’t get stuck again. There are these other kids now and they can-”

“Kids, Jou! Children! Like you were – like you are!” He drew himself up tall, looming over Jou, his face fixed in a furious scowl. “You will not be going back there, and that is final.” He stormed from the loung and Jou winced as the slamming of the bedroom door echoed through the apartment. Shuu let out a heavy sigh and hurried to the kitchen, returning a moment later with a towel and a bucket to collect the shards of shattered China.

“Thanks for your help,” Jou muttered dryly as he dropped down beside Shuu to help mop up the spilt tea. Shuu looked at him from the corner of his eye.

“Have you completely forgotten what he’s like?” he asked. “Did you honestly think he’d be happy to get you back and then let you go again?” Jou sighed and sat back on his heels, glancing over his shoulder towards his father’s room. When he turned back, Shuu was staring at him with something like sympathy in his eyes. “You really wanna go back, don’t you?”

“I… It’s complicated,” Jou sighed, careful to keep his voice low. “The Digital World chose us to defend it, and it needs us now more than ever. I can’t walk away. People are counting on me.” Shuu didn’t say anything at first; he placed the last shards in to the bucket and took the damp towel from Jou, depositing both in the kitchen before coming back to perch on the arm of the sofa.

“He just… We don’t want to lose you again,” he said. “It’s been four years, Jou. You’re barely home and you’re already talking about leaving again.”

“Not leaving,” Jou countered. “Just… visiting. Short trips, a few hours at most.” Something shifted behind Shuu’s eyes and he motioned for Jou to join him on the sofa. He slowly clambered up until he was perched on the edge of the pillows, watching Shuu who was studying him carefully. After a pause, Shuu sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose beneath his glasses.

“I get it,” he sighed at last. “You’re a responsible kid, you always have been. And if people are relying on you to do what’s right, then we shouldn’t be trying to stop you.” Jou’s heart skipped a hopeful beat as he watched his brother carefully.

“Shuu?” he nudged. Shuu lifted his head and readjusted his glasses, staring down the hall towards their father’s bedroom. After a moment he slid from the arm of the sofa down on to the pillows beside Jou, and he patted Jou’s knee firmly.

“I can’t promise much, but I’ll try and help where I can. I can help cover for you with dad if you need it, and I might be able to help the other kids too. Pretend I’m supervising you on a road trip or a to a museum or… I don’t know. But I’m here for you, Jou.” Jou’s eyes were burning and his throat felt too tight. He placed his hand on top of his brother’s with a grateful smile.

“Thank you-”

“It comes with one condition,” Shuu said firmly. He met Jou’s gaze and flipped his hand so that he could squeeze Jou’s fingers tightly. “You have to promise to do everything you can to come home, every time.” It took a moment for the words to hit home, and once they did Jou nodded fervently.

“I will. I promise,” he said eagerly. “I don’t ever want to be stuck away from my family ever again.” And he meant it; he really, really meant it, especially now that he didn’t have to choose.

Shuu opened his mouth to speak but Jou’s stomach got their first, releasing an ominous growl so loud Jou was sure he felt the floorboards shaking. He wrapped his arms around his empty stomach and looked up at his brother with a sheepish smile. Shuu laughed ad stood, reaching out to tousle Jou’s hair before pulling him to his feet.

“C’mon. Let’s get you some food and then get you to bed.”


Takeru clenched his jaw to stifle a yawn and rubbed at the bridge of his nose to hide it. They’d stayed up all night, only going to bed in the early hours of the morning once their parents had made contact with their offices and cite a family emergency. They’d slept well past noon (no doubt Patamon was still sleeping, having rolled himself into a patch of sunlight just as they had left), but even so Takeru found himself wanting to crawl back on to the small futon in the lounge and pull the covers back over his head.

It was probably the beds, he thought to himself as his parents led the way towards a matching pair of singles. The bedroom department of a furniture store was definitely the worst place to try and stay awake in.

“These would be nice,” Hiroaki suggested eagerly. Natsuko hovered over his shoulder with a frown.

“I don’t think they’ll fit. The room isn’t that big…”

“I dunno…” he countered, measuring the length and width of the closest bed (despite the measurements being noted on a nearby pedestal with the price and various add-ons). “We could always place them lengthways from the far side of the room… put that small cabinet we saw inbetween for a nightstand. They’re the same width as the wardrobes, and we already decided that we could fit one on either side of the door.” Natsuko pursed her lips.

“It would be very cramped,” she said. She turned to Takeru and Yamato with a frown. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have bunk beds and more room?” Takeru shrugged and looked to Yamato who seemed more than a little unimpressed at the thought of bunk beds. Takeru tried not to laugh.

“I think we’ll be okay,” he said.

“Then it’s settled!” Hiroaki exclaimed. He hunched over and curled his fingers under the mattress, lifting it straight up to reveal a hollow underneath. “Oh look – under-bed storage! That’ll come in handy.” Natsuko clicked her tongue with a smile and pulled the mattress back down.

“Come on,” she said, scooping up several large shopping bags from the ground and nodding her head toward the sales desk. “If we hurry, we might be able to ask them to deliver everything today.”

“If they have it in stock,” Hiroaki added. He turned back to Takeru and Yamato with a grin. “We’ll be right back.” Takeru watched them go, and once he was sure they weren’t going to look back he finally unleashed the grin he’d been trying to smother all afternoon.

“I can’t believe how happy they are together.” Yamato grunted.

“All it took was us not coming home,” he said dryly. Takeru’s smile fell and he turned to his brother who was staring at something across the store. “C’mon.”

“Where are we going?” Takeru asked, tightening his grip on the bags and weaving after his brother who was heading towards high-rise beds and… Takeru frowned. “I thought you said you didn’t want bunk beds.”

“I don’t,” he answered. That did little to help Takeru’s confusion, though before he could ask any further questions he picked out two familiar voices that cut through the general hum of the store.

“What about this one?”

“It’s a bit expensive.”

“I told you we weren’t worrying about price-”

“I’m happy with the sleeping bag-”

“Well I’m not,” Taichi huffed, folding his arms and throwing his head towards the dark bunk beds behind him. “Let’s get this one. You can take the drawers under the bed, which will save room and then we won’t have to buy the – oh, hey!” Taichi grinned broadly as he spied them and Hikari quickly turned towards them, her confusion quickly melting in to a smile. Judging by her pale pink dress and her shiny brown boots (and the bags cradled in her elbows), Hikari had also been shopping.

Taichi closed the gap first, coming to a stop infront of Yamato. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Same thing as you, I guess,” Yamato answered.

“Bunk beds?”

“Singles. Mom’s moving her study in to the lounge.” Taichi sighed and tucked a hand in to his jeans.

“My room’s not big enough, and I don’t think dad would appreciate us moving all his stuff without asking. Figure we’ll just have to make do with bunk beds for a year or two,” he said with a sigh.

“I don’t mind,” Hikari said quickly. “It’ll be just like it used to be.” Taichi turned to her with a victorious grin.

“So you agree that we should get bunk beds?” Hikari rolled her eyes.

“I agree it’s probably the only way to get you to stop talking about them.” Taichi nudged her lightly with his shoulder and she sighed through a fond smile. She met Takeru’s eyes then, and Takeru felt his stomach twist uncomfortably. Something about her smile didn’t seem quite right, but before Takeru could put his finger on it someone clapped a firm hand on his shoulder.

“There you are!” his father exclaimed. “We’re in luck – one of the delivery vans just got back to the warehouse, so they’re going to add our order on to their last run of the day. Ah, Taichi, do you need them to add an order in for you as well?”

With some quick talking from Natsuko, Taichi and Hikari’s new bunk beds were added to the final delivery run. Hiroaki promised that they would swing by later to help Taichi put them together (“Many hands make light work,” he’d laughed when Taichi had tried to protest) and then they’d gone their separate ways. Taichi and Hikari were heading home, but Takeru and Yamato weren’t quite so lucky and their mother spent the next hour dragging them through a series of department stores until they’d bought nearly half of the shopping centre. Somehow they managed to fit everything inside the car, and they trundled through rush hour traffic to arrive minutes before the delivery team.

It took less than two hours to convert the small study in to a bedroom. Natsuko had been right – it was very cramped – but Takeru couldn’t have been happier. Yamato was barely out of arm’s reach (something Yamato also seemed to appreciate, even if he did his best to hide it), and Takeru sighed happily as he collapsed back on to his bed. His bed! His bed! No more makeshift palettes of blankets or leaves. No more huddling in caves or caverns. Now he had a bed with a thick, downy blanket and a cool pillow and had Patamon squealing with delight as he made a nest for himself, curling up and using his large ear as a blanket.

“No rest for the wicked,” his father laughed, leaning against the doorway. Yamato’s head appeared around the door of his wardrobe with a confused frown. “C’mon, lets head over and give Taichi a hand, eh?” Takeru propped himself up on his elbows.

“Won’t we just be getting in the way?” he asked. “I thought Taichi said his room was smaller than ours?”

“Yes, but it’s just the two of them, so they could probably do with an extra pair of hands.”

“Just the two of them?” Yamato asked. His expression was dark and tense as he closed the wardrobe door. “Where are their parents?” Their father’s smile fell a little and he ran a hand through his greying hair.

“It’s… Their father’s working out of town now, and their mother… she hasn’t been well.” Yamato’s frown deepened and Takeru pushed himself up off the bed.

“Well then, let’s go!” he said brightly, flashing his best smile to Yamato. The frown eased a little, but there was a sort of urgency in the way he snatched the nearest hoodie and threw it on with the tags still attached. Takeru glanced back towards his bed. He might have invited Patamon, but his partner had already burrowed himself underneath the comforter and fallen asleep, and so Takeru smiled and left a candy bar on the nightstand before grabbing his jacket.

Before long they were pulling up outside an unfamiliar block of apartments, and Takeru followed his parents up the winding concrete stairs and along the exposed walkway to the Yagami apartment. Hikari let them in with a smile, and as she led them through to the kitchen Takeru could hear Taichi’s muffled swearing coming from down the hall.

“I take it it’s not going too well,” Hiroaki chuckled as Hikari offered them tea and juice. 

“He’s still trying to figure out how to take his old bed apart,” she said, placing several mugs and a box of assorted teabags on the kitchen table.

The sound of tinny, muted laughter drew Takeru’s attention to the living room. The television was on, casting the woman before it in a pale, ethereal light. Takeru hadn’t even noticed her at first, and he suddenly felt awfully rude that he hadn’t said hello. Then again, she hadn’t spoken either. Hadn’t even acknowledged that there were guests in her apartment.

“Their mother… she hasn’t been well…”

His father’s words rang in his ears and he quickly turned away, but Hikari had noticed him staring. He caught her eye as she turned her attention back to the kettle, busying herself with rummaging through the cupboards. Natsuko placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Why don’t I sort the tea?” she said softly. Hikari looked as though she might have argued, but then something Takeru couldn’t see passed over his mother’s face and Hikari gave a small nod. She skirted around them on her way out of the kitchen, and something tickled Takeru’s nose as she passed. It was a strange smell… It made him think of the beach, and a cold shiver ran up his spine. He tried not to stare, but he couldn’t help but watch from the corner of his eye as Hikari coaxed her mother out of her chair and down the hallway. Yamato meanwhile was watching them very closely, and when Takeru turned to help his mother with the mugs Yamato’s face was dark and troubled.

Another curse coloured the air and Hiroaki laughed.

“Perhaps we should give him a hand.”


The sun had long since set by the time they’d taken down Taichi’s bed and erected the bunk beds; a feat that might have been completed sooner had it not been for six people crowded inside the small room which made manouvering the pieces of furniture that much more difficult. Natsuko had appointed herself tea-maker, and had been popping in and out of the room with drinks and snacks. Hiroaki had spent much of the evening scratching his head over the instructions and calling out orders that were promptly ignored by Taichi and Yamato who were content to try and figure it out as they went along. Hikari and Takeru had been left to supervise the nuts and bolts and screws, and every time someone shouted out an order they had clambered over the pieces of furniture to deliver it to them.

It had been nice and, in its own strange way, somewhat normal. This was what normal people did with their normal families; they fought over flatpack furniture and drank too much tea and stopped Taichi and Yamato arguing about whether part A needed to be completed before or after they worked on section 3. For a while Hikari let herself pretend that she was normal too. As she handed Taichi a screw, she pretended her mother was simply in bed with a small headache and would be right as rain by morning. As she handed Yamato a hammer, she pretended that her father was flying home from a business trip and that was why he hadn’t answered Taichi’s phone call. And when she caught sight of the pager on Mr Ishida’s hip, she convinced herself the closest she’d ever come to anything digital was the computer in her father’s study (which had most definitely never coughed up an egg the size of a toddler).

Unfortunately, the illusion ended all too soon. She was sitting empty-handed against the far wall with Miko curled on her lap when Takeru sat down beside her, having given Yamato the last of the plastic caps to cover the screw heads. Perhaps it was the tense silence that he brought with him, or the nervous way he hesitated before finally speaking, but it made Hikari’s stomach twist.

“Are you okay?”

The question might have been fine if it hadn’t been said so carefully, as though Hikari was likely to bolt if he spoke too loud or moved too quickly.

(Then again, who was to say she wasn’t?)

She tried to smile, but she couldn’t even convince herself and Takeru’s face folded in to a concerned frown. She shrugged and turned her attention to Miko.

“I’m all right,” she said. His eyes darkened and his lips tightened in to a thin line, and she swallowed bile.

“Hikari-”

“I need to check on mum.” She stood quickly, ignoring Miko’s disgruntled mewling as the cat spilled on to the carpet beside Takeru. Takeru opened his mouth to speak, but then Taichi trapped his fingers against the wall with a yell and Hikari used the distraction to slip away. She darted across the hall and into her mother’s room, closing the door quietly behind her. The room was dark, the only light coming from the gentle red glow of the alarm clock, and HIkari held her breath. Nothing stirred, and Hikari slowly sank down against the door and buried her head in her knees.

She couldn’t stop the sob that ripped its way up her throat, and she stuff the corner of her new cardigan into her mouth to keep from making a sound. She pressed herself against the door, curling in to a tight ball and burying her hands in her hair, tugging until her ears rang. It wasn’t right for her to feel so sad when she finally had what she wanted; she was finally home, with Taichi and her parents, and yet she felt… she felt… There wasn’t a word big enough to describe the shadow that had wrapped itself around her heart. It shouldn’t matter that things weren’t perfect; she wanted to be happy for what she had, but every time she paused – even for a moment – she found herself surrounded by eyes.

Taichi’s concerned frown.

Her mother’s vacant stare.

LadyDevimon’s sudden confusion and hatred and fear before she flew off in to the sky.

And now there were others. Takeru looked at her like he could see how fractured she felt; like he knew how close she was to exploding. Yamato had been fixing her with sympathetic looks all evening, and the simultaneous urge to run to him and run from him had kept her rooted in place, unable to do either. Someone was always watching, and when it wasn’t the eyes she knew it was the eyes she didn’t. She felt them even now, watching her from the shadows.

A salty breeze brushed her cheek and she shivered, a half-choked sob dying in her throat.

“No,” she whimpered, not quite loud enough to drown out the sound of distant waves. She pressed her forehead against her knees and clenched her eyes shut, clamping her hands over her ears. It only made the waves louder. “Not here. Please, not now.”

“…Save us…”

The voice crashed over Hikari in a frozen wave and she choked on water. She tried to open her eyes, but everything was a grey blur and she quickly slammed them shut again, trying to hold on to what little air she had left as the storm tossed her to and fro. She clawed against the tide, dragging her fingernails through the brine as she tried to figure out which way was up.

“…Chosen One…”

The heavy click of the door crashed through the waves as Hikari gasped. Air, hot and humid, flooded her lungs and she rested her head against the door. She was back in her mother’s room, unsure of whether she’d ever left. Her clothes were dry but there was a salty taste in her throat that made her want to vomit. Her mother was sleeping soundly; Hikari could just hear her gentle breaths over the murmur of happy chatter from the bedroom across the hall.

“I’m home.”

The exhausted voice was low and muffled, but it filled Hikari with a sudden unexpected warmth that washed the ice from her veins. She scrubbed her eyes and her cheeks and stood, her legs shaking as her hands fumbled with the doorknob. She spilled in to the hallway several steps behind Tachi and the others. They turned towards her, slowly stepping back to allow Hikari to see her father. His briefcase clattered to the floor, his mouth agape as he stood staring with one hand frozen around his tie.

“Hikari-”

She threw herself at him and he let out a surprised bark of laughter as they fell heavily to the floor. He smelled just as she remembered, of too much fabric softener and a smoky cologne that reminded her of how he used to make her laugh until her tummy hurt and how he would hold her tight when the needles came.

She heard Taichi showing their guests to the door, and then he joined them on the floor. Hikari found herself crushed in the middle, and she wouldn’t have traded it for the world. She clung to them both, pulling them in closer, and suddenly she had the strength to do just about anything. She would rescue Tailmon – Agumon too – then she was save the Digital World from the Kaiser and save the Kaiser from himself. And this time, she promised herself, nobody would get left behind.

Chapter Text


A FLASH OF LIGHT


Dear Mimi

I’m sorry it’s taken me a few days to get back to you. Things have been pretty busy here. Mum keeps asking me to cover extra shifts at the store and I’m starting to run out of excuses. So far she hasn’t asked me any questions, but I think she knows something’s changed.

Not much to report from our side. We’re still going across when we can, but in the run up to the holidays the computer room is busier than ever. We’re having to come back later, and then we get less time before we have to go home again.

We’re still trying to catch up to Biyomon and Palmon, but they’re still on the move. I know it’s the right thing for them to do, because if they stay still too long then the Kaiser might find them, but I wish they’d stay still long enough for us to set up some kind of meeting point.

No sign of Agumon or Tailmon, not since our last run-ins. We would have thought the Kaiser would have been throwing them at us, but there’s been no sign of him either. He’s still around, unfortunately. He’s still putting up his dark towers, but we’re doing our best to knock them back down again. We’ve tried to track him down, but there’s no trace of him. We went back to the cells where he kept Yamato prisoner, but everything was gone.

Koushiro thinks he might be able to open his own gate soon. I hope he can, otherwise we might not be able to get back until school starts after summer, and who knows what the Kaiser could do while we’re away? Sometimes I hate that we can jump back and forth. It feels like it’d be easier if we could just stay there a while, but it’s not like last time. An hour there seems to be an hour here, give or take a few minutes.

I hope you’re doing okay. How is school? Your school term is ending soon, right? Any plans for the summer? Maybe we’ll finally be able to set up that video call so you can meet the new kids.

Wishing you weren’t half a world away. Missing you more than ever.

Sora.

She chewed her thumbnail and re-read the message, wishing she had more good news. Perhaps an absence of bad news was the best they could hope for right now. Eventually she sent the e-mail and logged out of her inbox.

“Thanks, Koushiro,” she said, handing the laptop back to him. He accepted it with a nod and set it in his lap, bringing up streaming lines of code and setting to work, his lunch forgotten. Sora glanced across to the desk beside her where Taichi was gnawing absently on a rice ball, staring out of the window. A pink post-it note was clutched tightly between his fingers with ‘Happy Friday onii-chan’ written above a squiggle that was supposed to look like a cat.

It had been almost two weeks since the others had returned. Sometimes Sora forgot. It was easy to do, given that school was the same as usual. The only real change was that Koushiro came from his classroom to sit with them more often at lunch, though he was often so engrossed in his laptop that it was like he wasn’t there at all.

Sometimes Sora didn’t remember anything had changed at all until they rounded the corner down the street and saw Yamato, Takeru and Hikari waiting for them.

“Do you know if Jou is coming today?” she asked. Taichi took another bite.

“I don’t think so,” Koushiro answered without looking away from his screen. “His father already has three tutors lined up for him.”

“Three?” Sora asked. Koushiro nodded.

“He never progressed past middle school, but his father wants him to take entrance exams at the same time as his classmates. He’s got a lot of catching up to do.”

“They all do,” Taichi sighed. He swallowed the last of his rice ball and turned away from the window, leaning back heavily in his chair. “Hikari never left elementary. She can’t even read the newspaper.”

“Oh,” Sora breathed. She hadn’t even thought about that. “Takeru too, I’m guessing.” Taichi nodded.

“Natsuko’s been looking for a tutor, but how do you explain to a teacher that their teenage student only has a kid’s reading level? They start asking questions, and then they want names, and it only takes one search online to see that the police still think they’re missing.” Taichi turned the post-it note over in his fingers with an exhausted frown. “I don’t know how Jou’s dad did it.”

“What will you do?” Sora asked. Taichi shrugged.

“They’ll want to know where Hikari and the others have been,” Koushiro murmured, more to himself than anyone else but Taichi’s shoulders stiffened nonetheless. “Even if they claim they don’t remember, it could be weeks of police investigations-”

“Koushiro,” Sora murmured. Koushiro stopped typing and looked up, his eyes wide.

“Ah, sorry,” he murmured with a nod to Taichi.

“It’s not just the police,” Taichi murmured. “They might have been okay with leaving me where I was, but that was before dad’s work moved him across town and before mum… She wasn’t as bad back then. What if they start poking around again? They’ll say I’m not old enough to look after Hikari and then-” He stopped, carefully unfolding his fingers. The post-it note was crumpled in his palm and his shoulders sagged. Sora’s heart ached and she reached out to place a hand on his elbow.

“You can’t keep her hidden forever.”

“Can’t I? It might keep her safe.”

“Taichi,” she murmured sternly. He sighed, smoothing the creases of the post-it note.

“Mum’s getting better. She’s not… I mean she’s not great, but having Hikari home is helping. If we can just keep her hidden until she’s well again then maybe…” He closed his eyes with a sigh. “We ran in to Mrs Yamada the other night. Had to tell her Hikari was a cousin from out of town.”

“What did she say?”

“Just said it was weird that she was visiting before the holidays and then left.” Taichi scowled and shook his head. “Old hag can’t even remember her own name some days, but she always remembered Hikari.” Sora bit her tongue; Mrs Yamada had been the one to raise the alarm when Hikari had disappeared, setting off a seemingly endless chain of police enquiries and investigations.

“She means will,” Sora said softly, if only to break the silence. Taichi grunted. Mrs Yamada had loved Hikari and had doted on her like a granddaughter. Hikari had returned the affection by running errands and dropping boxes of homemade cookies whenever she and her mother had spent a Sunday afternoon baking. “How is she?”

“Same as ever, crazy old b-”

“I meant Hikari.” Taichi pressed his lips together. He ran his thumb over the squiggly cat and the childish handwriting.

“She’s frustrated, he answered. “She used to spend all day running around the Digital World and now she’s trapped in our tiny apartment.”

“Has she said anything?”

“Of course not,” he said with a dry snort. “She was hanging out with Takeru and Yamato during the day, but she said they were getting funny looks because they weren’t in school.”

“They could have been visiting,” Sora offered weakly. Taichi shrugged.

“Just takes the wrong person to ask the wrong question. I don’t think she minds being at home all that much. I think being around mum… it helps take her mind off everything else.” Sora chewed the inside of her cheek. It didn’t sound like a good thing, but it wasn’t like there was anything else she could suggest that Hikari could do instead. And perhaps Taichi was right; maybe things would be easier once their mother had recovered a little more.

The bell echoed through the hall, signalling the end of lunch, and Koushiro slid his laptop back in to his bag.

“Shall we meet by the gates after school?” he asked. Sora shook her head.

“We’re both on classroom duties today,” she said. Koushiro nodded and stood.

“Then I’ll go on ahead and meet up with the others.” Their classmates were pouring back in to the room, and Koushiro bid them a hasty goodbye before returning to his own room. Sora quickly tidied away the last of her lunch things and dug out her afternoon books before prompting Taichi to do the same. He’d gone back to staring out of the window again, lost in thought, and it took several seconds of nudging for him to acknowledge her.

“You don’t have to come with us,” she said softly as their teacher, Mr Tanaka, began scribbling across the board. The room was filled with rustling papers as the students around them began flipping open their books. “If it’s too painful-”

“Hikari would never forgive me,” he whispered back, bowing his head over his book and scribbling something in the corner. “I want to be there. If Agumon shows up again… I want to be there.” Sora chewed her lip, but then Taichi was flashing her his signature smile and she stifled a sigh, turning her attention to the board and trying to focus on Tanaka’s latest lecture.


The dark tower gave an ominous crack before tilting sideways, belching clouds of black dust as it hit the ground with a bone-shuddering THUD. Iori’s teeth rattled.

It was the second tower they’d taken down so far that evening. Their record was five, but they had been packed closely together. Iori thought the Kaiser was perhaps being a little smarter with how he placed his newest towers, and there was a fair amount of distance between them now. Iori wondered if the Kaiser knew that they were limited on how long they could spend in the Digital World, and how much they could get done.

Despite the Kaiser’s increased activity in the Digital World, Ichijouji Ken’s presence back home remained unchanged. He would still pop up every now and then, his face flashing across the television as the news recounted his latest achievements. After winning the National Computer Programming Contest, he had led his school’s chess team to victory before taking on some of Odaiba’s top chess champions. Iori couldn’t help but feel it was deliberate, as though Ichijouji was making a conscious effort to be seen. Iori’s grandfather, however, seemed to consider it all an amusing coincidence.

“Yesterday I heard a phrase my father used to say to me,” he’d said one night. It had been over dinner; Iori had gone to turn off the television so they could sit down to eat, and Ichijouji’s face had made him so angry his fists had turned white. “A frog in a well does not know the great sea. And ever since then, I have been seeing frogs everywhere! Perhaps this is why you have been seeing so much of this Ichijouji boy; you met him at your friend’s soccer match, and now you can’t help but notice him.”

Iori wished he could tell his grandfather the real reason. He wished he could explain why every time the boy’s face appeared on the television or beneath the fold of the newspaper, Iori felt an angry pebble of rage burning through his stomach. His grandfather would not think of Ichijouji so kindly, Iori thought, if he knew of the cruelties the boy was capable of.

They set out in search of their next dark tower. Koushiro’s map could give them a general heading, but Takeru and Pegasusmon would fly on ahead to track down the tower’s exact location. Daisuke was delighted whenever the pair took to the sky, and he stuck close to Hikari as she followed Takeru’s signal. He kept up an excitable stream of chatter that was occasionally broken by Miyako curtly reminding him that he was supposed to be the one following Takeru’s signal and telling them where to go.

Hikari said she didn’t mind. She seemed to prefer walking with her attention focused on her D-3, and Iori couldn’t help but wonder if it helped her ignore Daisuke’s endless attentions or her brother’s concerned hovering. Taichi often walked several paces behind her, with Sora, Yamato and Koushiro nearby. He was better now than when they’d first returned to the world after Tailmon’s capture, Iori noted. He wasn’t stuck quite as tightly to his sister’s side as he had been then, and he spent less time keeping her in his sights and more time talking with the other elder Chosen (though it didn’t stop him glancing at Hikari every few seconds as though to make sure she was still there).

Takeru and Pegasusmon met them at the edge of the woods where the trees suddenly gave way to sand-dusted plains. Iori still hadn’t quite adjusted to the jarring randomness of the Digital World’s terrain. One minute they could be walking through thick, humid forests, and the next they could be gazing over an endless tundra dusted with vibrant flowers and tufts of spiked grass that were soft as silk. Landscapes were often littered with an assortment of oddities that Koushiro referred to as ‘analogue debris’; road signs that led to nowhere, empty vending machines, and telephone poles with wires that disappeared in to the clouds. Armadimon would often ask him what they were all for, and the walk from one tower to the next was often filled with Iori trying to figure out how to explain concepts like electricity and bottled water in ways his partner would understand.

Armadimon, Hawkmon and Veemon wrapped themselves in their armoured evolutions and surged forwards, beginning their assault on the tower. Much like the others they’d encountered recently, this one was unguarded as though the Kaiser didn’t really care about keeping them standing once he’d planted them. With the speed that he erected new towers, Iori supposed it mustn’t really matter all that much, and not for the first time he found himself wondering if perhaps the Kaiser was putting up the towers because he knew that they would come along to knock them down.

This time it was Digmon who landed the final blow on the tower, and Iori felt his heart swell as he saw his partner’s drills plunge in to a gaping fissure and tear it wide open. The tower creaked and groaned, tilting away and then towards them as it began to fall.

“Everyone back!” Taichi called. They were a fair distance from the tower already, but they’d learned from experience not to be too careful, and Iori dutifully shuffled back with the others. The tower was twisting as it fell, making its trajectory unpredictable, and as it turned Iori saw the deep crack racing up the side.

The tower exploded. Gleaming black shards shot out in all directions and Iori felt a hand grab the back of his shirt, pulling him back. A shard was sailing towards Hikari who spied it too late, and she threw her hands up with a startled scream.

A flash of light and the shard exploded in to sparkling squares of data. Hikari peered through her fingers, her eyes wide with confusion. Taichi’s mouth was hanging limp, his hand hanging in the air between them where he had been reached out towards her. Takeru and Pegasusmon landed nearby, and Takeru raced towards her.

“Hikari! Are you okay?” he asked. Hikari nodded slowly, staring silently down at her hands as though she’d never seen them before. She slowly curled and uncurled her fingers, turning her hands over to examine them front and back as the others quickly closed in around her.

“How did you do that?” Koushiro asked.

“I… I don’t know,” Hikari answered, slowly lifting her gaze towards him.

“What was it that you did?” Koushiro pressed, twisting his schoolbag around so he could retrieve his laptop. “It all happened so quickly – I couldn’t get a good look at it. Could you do it again for me?”

“Give her some air, Koushiro,” Taichi said firmly. He placed a hand on Hikari’s shoulder and she glanced up at him, her expression dazed and confused. “You okay?”

“Y-yeah,” she breathed. “I’m fine.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t mean to do anything, it just… happened.” Her hands were trembling and her skin had turned pale beneath a sickly sort of flush in her cheeks. Taichi stepped closer, placing his hands on her shoulders as Koushiro glanced back to Hikari again.

“Hikari-” Taichi shot him a glare and Koushiro threw his hands up. After a moment Taichi tilted his head towards his sister and Koushiro cleared his throat. “Hikari, has anything like this happened over the last few years, while you were living here with Tailmon?” She turned towards him with a thoughtful frown, thinking for a moment before shaking her head.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. But…”

“But?” Koushiro prompted. Taichi gave him a warning glower that Hikari didn’t see as she shifted her weight and bit her lip.

“I still don’t really remember what happened in Mugendramon’s factory.” Sora and Takeru shared a silent exchange, their expressions unreadable. Iori’s stomach tightened at the tense silence that settled between them.

“What happened?” Daisuke asked. Hikari chewed her lip and glanced to Sora.

“We had all been separated,” Sora began. She linked her fingers together and lowered her gaze, staring at the grass as she recounted the tale. “We were in an area that was controlled by a digimon called Mugendramon, and when we were trying to find the others we found a factory full of Numemon. They were prisoners, enslaved and beaten, and… It was horrible to see. Hikari glowed then, too. She freed the Numemon and then she led us back to the others.”

“So this happened when you were younger, too?” Miyako asked. Hikari nodded and Miyako’s eyes gleamed, nervous curiosity bubbling over in a flood of excitable questions. Iori grimaced. “How does it happen? What causes it? Is it because you’re Chosen? Did it happen to anyone else?”

“Whoa, back off, Inoue,” Daisuke grunted. He took a defensive step in front of Hikari and folded his arms across his chest, jutting out his chin. To Miyako, it was like a red flag in front of a bull.

Back off?!

“Can’t you see you’re makin’ her uncomfortable? Enough with the interrogation already.”

“I wasn’t interrogating, I was just-”

“It’s none of your business.”

“It is my business if it could happen to me too!” Miyako spat, drawing herself up to her full height. She was slightly taller than Daisuke, who didn’t seem to appreciate having to look up at her. He craned his neck and arched his back, standing as tall as he could without rising on to his toes.

“It won’t happen to you,” Sora said calmly as she gently pulled Miyako away from Daisuke. “When it comes to the Digital World, Hikari’s always had a special connection.” Hikari flinched, though she quickly hid it behind a smile. Iori wondered if anyone else had seen it. Sora was preoccupied with Miyako who was glaring at Daisuke who was glowering right back. Koushiro was focused on his laptop whilst Taichi was watching Daisuke and Yamato was watching Taichi. Iori thought perhaps Takeru might have seen it; he seemed to be the only one looking at Hikari who was smiling kindly at Miyako.

“Please don’t worry, Miyako,” she said softly. “Nothing like this has ever happened to anyone else.”

“We never got the chance to figure out why it happened to you, though,” Koushiro murmured.

“There wasn’t exactly time to investigate,” Takeru said lightly with a smile. Koushiro frowned.

“Still… Perhaps if we could figure out what triggered it when you were younger, it might give us some insight in to what’s causing it now.” He looked up, glancing at Taichi and giving him a deferential nod before turning his attention to Hikari. “How do you feel? Does it hurt at all?” Taichi turned sharply to Hikari who was looking down at her hands again.

“It doesn’t hurt,” she said, though her brow was furrowed as though she was trying to find the right words. “It feels… It’s warm. I feel fine, though, I promise. Maybe a little tired.” Something flashed across Taichi’s expression and he straightened, turning his attention to the others.

“I think that’s enough for today.” Hikari’s head snapped up.

“Really, I’m fine, we don’t have to stop-”

“It is getting late,” Sora said gently, placing a hand on Hikari’s elbow. “If we don’t get home soon, people might start to worry.”

“There isn’t another dark tower around for miles,” Takeru added. “It could be hours until we find the next one.” Hikari pressed her lips together and glanced over her shoulder, and something unreadable passed between the two before she finally conceded and allowed Taichi to lead them all back towards the gate with Hikari by his side. Yamato and Takeru flanked them on either side, with Sora and Koushiro close behind.

Daisuke followed a step behind Hikari and Takeru, never more than a half-step away. It had become somewhat of a habit, Iori had noticed. Usually Hikari would laugh and smile, but it seemed now she barely had the energy to look at him, and Daisuke soon fell back back to sullenly skulk along behind them.

His mood was almost as sour as Miyako’s who trudged at the rear with Hawkmon at her side. Her partner was glancing up at her, his feathers ruffling anxiously as he studied the troubled look on her face. She was worrying her bottom lip with her teeth; something she often did when faced with a troubling problem, like the time she couldn’t figure out exactly what Iori’s grandfather had accidentally downloaded on to the family computer.

“Miyako, are you all right?” Iori asked quietly. Hawkmon shot him a grateful glance, and as Iori stepped closer to Miyako, Hawkmon and Armadimon picked up the pace a little to give them some space. Miyako picked at the hem of her vest, her eyes fixed on the ground.

“I just feel like there’s so much I don’t know,” she said. Her voice cut through the silence and Iori saw Yamato glance back over his shoulder. “Every time I think I’m starting to figure this place out, it throws another curveball at me. I can’t keep up.” Her voice was rising – in volume and in pitch – and Yamato threw a scowl over his shoulder.

“Welcome to the Digital World,” he retorted dryly. “There’s no handbook. You gotta learn on the job, like we did.”

“Maybe they don’t,” Sora suggested. Yamato glanced at her and she shrugged. “We were in the dark because there was nobody to really guide us, but they have us. If we’d known more about the Digital World, maybe we could have avoided some of our mistakes.”

“We don’t have time to sit around trading war stories,” Taichi grunted.

“But this is important,” Sora countered, her voice firm. Taichi stopped, bringing their procession to a halt as he turned towards her.

“More important than the Kaiser? More important than getting our partners back?” he asked sharply. Hikari placed a hand on his elbow and murmured his name, and when Taichi glanced towards her his anger simmered just a little. Sora knitted her fingers together and fixed Taichi with a pointed stare.

“The anniversary is on a Saturday this year,” she said. Yamato frowned.

“The anniversary?” he asked. Sora’s cheeks flushed and she nodded.

“August first. We used to always spend the day thinking about you guys and hoping you would come home,” she answered with a flustered sort of smile. “I guess now that you’re back, we don’t have to keep wishing anymore.”

“So we should spend it here instead,” Taichi argued. Koushiro shook his head slightly.

“It’s the first weekend of the summer holidays and the computer room is occupied that weekend,” said Koushiro. “The only way we’re getting to the Digital World that weekend is if I have my gate up and running, which – I’m sorry to say – isn’t looking likely.” Taichi opened his mouth but Sora shot him a warning glare and he closed it again.

“They don’t have to stumble in the dark like we did,” she pressed, gesturing to Daisuke and Miyako and Iori. “Maybe if we tell them more about what we went through, it might help them understand.”

Taichi grimaced, a war raging across his face as he glanced around the group. His eyes lingered on his sister who gave him a reassuring smile. His frown only deepened. He glanced to Sora who fixed him with a determined look, and to Yamato who tilted his head a little, and then he rocked back and folded his arms across his chest.

If Koushiro’s gate isn’t working by next weekend,” he conceded, “then we’ll see.” Daisuke punched the air with an excitable yell.

“All right! I get to hear all about Taichi-sempai’s adventures!” he crowed. Miyako flinched and covered her ears.

“Do you have to be so loud all the time?” she huffed. Daisuke only grinned.

“We should get home,” Sora quickly interjected before another fight could break out between the pair. She seemed to have a sort of sixth sense for disputes, Iori thought. “If we don’t have a gate by next weekend, then I’ll arrange for us to meet up somewhere.”

They made their way back through to the computer lab before splitting off in to their usual groups. Daisuke lived near the Yagami apartment, so the three of them went in one direction while Sora and Koushiro went in another. Takeru and Yamato were going to meet their father at his office after work, so they walked a while in silence with Iori and Miyako before saying goodbye a couple of blocks from the school. By then, the digimon were asleep. Upamon was snoring lightly in to Iori’s shirt while Poromon had made himself a nest in Miyako’s school bag.

It was strange to think how much had changed in such a short space of time. There was a furrow in Miyako’s brow that hadn’t been there several weeks ago, and there was a tiredness that manifested in deep bags under her eyes and a stoop to her shoulders. Miyako had never been one to stick to an avid sleep schedule, sacrificing sleep for another hour or two of tinkering on some device or project, but Iori found himself wondering if she too had found her sleep troubled recently. His dreams had been more vivid than usual – his mind having been opened to previously impossible possibilities – and whilst none were so bad as to be considered nightmares, Iori woke most mornings feeling sluggish and unrested.

“I don’t get why he has to be such a jerk,” she exploded. Iori jumped, and it took his brain a moment to catch up to her.

“Ah… I’m sure he didn’t mean it-” 

“‘Back off, Inoue’,” she mocked, scrunching up her face and balling her hands in to fists. “Like I was attacking her or something.”

“You were quite intense-”

“And ‘Inoue’! I thought by now we were on a first name basis, but apparently not! Apparently I’m still Inoue to him! How long has it been now? Six weeks? Seven? Even Yamato calls me Miyako and I hardly speak to him!” She folded her arms with a huff, her pace quickening with rage, and Iori had to jog to keep up with her long strides.

“I think Daisuke is just trying to make a good impression,” he offered. “He looks up to Taichi and the others-”

“Well he’s trying too hard,” she spat. “‘Back off’… He’s the one that needs to back off. I’m surprised Hikari hasn’t told him to back off. He buzzes around her like a fly around sh-”

“Miyako,” Iori interjected. She stopped and sighed, closing her eyes and letting her shoulders slump. She took a deep breath before looking at Iori.

“I’m sorry,” she groaned. “I don’t mean to blow up at you, it’s not your fault.”

“No, it isn’t,” he agreed. He adjusted his grip on Upamon, waiting until she had taken a few more calming breaths before speaking again. “You should try and control your temper more.” Miyako let her head loll back with a groan.

“I’m trying,” she sighed. “But Dais- Motomiya makes it so damn hard.”

“You need to find a way to stop  him getting under your skin so easily.” Miyako rolled her eyes.

“Easier said than done. Not all of us have your elevated sense of tranquil serenity. And why is it my responsibility to keep calm? Why aren’t we telling Motomiya to be less of a jerk?”

“Maybe somebody will, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to do that.” Miyako scowled and muttered something under her breath as they took off towards home again. She stayed in a funk until their passed her family’s store, where she remembered that she didn’t have a shift for the next two nights and her mood quickly improved.

Before long Iori was home, and Miyako hollered a goodbye down the hall at him as the lift doors closed to take her up to the next floor. Iori flinched at the lingering echo of her voice as he quietly closed the door and slipped out of his shoes.

“Was that Miyako?” his mother asked from the kitchen. She rounded the corner, drying her hands on a tea towel to greet him with a tired smile. “I was hoping she would take a look at the computer. Your grandfather was working on it earlier and it said something about needing to install updates. After what happened last time I was hoping Miyako might take a look at it first.”

“I can ask her to come over tomorrow night,” he suggested. His mother smiled.

“Would you? Thank you, Iori. You can both come round after school. I’ll make ohagi.” Iori grimaced.

“It might not be until later, I have a… meeting after school.” His mother tilted her head slightly.

“Oh really? What for?”

Iori’s mind went blank. Any possible excuse disappeared beyond reach. Panic quickly took hold. He hated lying. He stood there for several agonising seconds, trying to think of something – anything – he could say until his mother folded her hands and gave him a kindly smile. “Is this about your history test?”

“M-my history test?” he asked, squeezing the words past the lump in his throat. His mother nodded.

“I didn’t mean to pry, but I went in to your room to see if you had any laundry and I saw it on your desk.” She stepped closer, reaching out to smooth his hair, and Iori’s stomach twisted painfully. “Eighty-seven is still a good mark, Iori. You should be very proud, I know you studied hard for that test.” His ears flushed. He’d gotten distracted halfway through the exam on European history when the word ‘Kaiser’ had sent his thoughts in to a tailspin that he found it difficult to recover from. He swallowed thickly.

“I think I just need to focus more.” That wasn’t technically a lie. His mother stroked his cheek.

“If you’ve asked Miyako to help tutor you, then I think that’s a great idea. I was wondering why you two were hanging out more often all of a sudden, but I guess it all makes sense now.”

Iori swallowed. The lie was squeezing his heart and he hadn’t even said anything. He swallowed and nodded stiffly.

“I… Yes. Miyako’s helping me.” Another truth, of a sort at least. He wondered how far he could stretch it before it broke.

“Well if you two ever want to study here for a change, you’re more than welcome. You know that Miyako is welcome over any time.” She was staring at him expectantly and her gaze felt heavy. Iori could feel it weighing down on him. No doubt his mother was already thinking that if Miyako was already there, it would be easier to ask her to look at the computer (and the microwave, given that the clock had reset to zeros again). Upamon squirmed in Iori’s arms and Iori gave him a gentle squeeze.

“We prefer to study at school because of the library,” he answered. It was only a small lie, after all, and he wasn’t so much telling a lie as he was not correcting his mother’s assumptions. The others were counting on him – Upamon was counting on him – and they had made it abundantly clear that they were all lying to their parents for the greater good of their partners and the Digital World. A white lie here or there… Iori could manage it, he decided, even if it did make his stomach hurt. “The computers are faster there, so we can get more work done. I think Miyako wanted to use the internet to study tomorrow, but I’ll still ask if she wants to come over once we’re done to look at the computer.”

His mother gave him a curious look – one Iori couldn’t figure out – and for a moment he wondered if she had seen right through him. But then she was leaning in to kiss his forehead and smooth his hair again.

“Dinner will be ready in ten minutes if you could set the table.”

“Of course, I’ll just put my books away and wash up,” he answered. She smiled and made her way back in to the kitchen, and it took all of Iori’s self-control not to bolt to his room and lock the door behind him. He kept his pace measured (perhaps too measured) as he slowly made his way to his room, closed the door quietly and sagged heavily against it. Upamon wriggled from his arms and bounced lightly to the floor to blink his large eyes up at Iori.

“Are you okay, partner? Your heart was racing!” Iori swallowed thickly and wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers.

“I’m fine,” he answered, although now that Upamon had mentioned it he could feel his heart fluttering in his chest like a hummingbird. He perched on the edge of his bed and clasped his hands together, closing his eyes and breathing deeply.

He’d never really had a reason to lie before. He’d never had to hide his class reports or lie about his whereabouts or sneak out in the dead of night to partake in forbidden activities like some of his classmates did. His grandfather had always taught him to be honest and to tell the truth.

“Because once you lie, no matter how big or small, all your truths become questionable,” his grandfather had often said when Iori was younger. He would fix Iori with a perceptive stare and would tilt his head before adding: “The truth costs you nothing, but a lie could cost you everything.”

Lying had always been very black and white when Iori was growing up. You either told the truth, or you didn’t. Now that he was a Chosen Child, there was a smear of grey where the two sides were beginning to merge and it was growing bigger by the day. There was no way he could explain the Digital World to his mother and grandfather – at best he would cause them inconsolable worry, and at worst there was no knowing who else they might try to tell about it.

He was left, then, to put his faith in the elder Chosen – and in the grown-ups who did know about the Digital World. Takeru and Yamato’s parents had kept the world a secret even after losing both of their children to it, and even Mr Yagami hadn’t broken his silence despite the despair that seemed to have swallowed his wife whole. Jou’s father, too, had kept the secret, and given his position among the senior medical staff at his hospital Iori had no reason to believe that Mr Kido wasn’t as reasonable and rational as his son.

A gentle knock on his door pulled him from his thoughts, and when he pulled it open he found his grandfather waiting on the other side.

“Oh dear,” he said, his kindly smile giving way to a serious frown. “Did I interrupt a deep thought?” Iori felt his cheeks flush and he shook his head.

“No, I… I was just thinking about how much work I have to do.” His grandfather gave a slow nod.

“Ah yes, your history test. You should have asked me help you study – I’m old enough to have lived through most of it!” He gave a hearty chuckle that made Iori smile, and he offered a weak laugh in return. “Come on, you must be hungry, and your mother made omurice!” Iori heard the sound of Upamon’s stomach rumbling from his hiding place under the bed, and he quickly clamped his hands over his stomach.

“Y-yes! I’m very hungry!” he said in an unconvincing tone. His grandfather clapped a hand against his shoulder.

“Well what are we waiting for? Let’s eat!”

Chapter Text


INSUBORDINATION


The heavily conditioned air of the baggage claim area was a cool and welcome change after 14 hours on a stuffy flight. Mimi’s left foot still hadn’t fully woken up, and she spent several long minutes hopping back and forth to try and restart the circulation while she waited for her suitcase. She was still hobbling when she spied it coming round the carousel, and she was grateful when a friendly American businesswoman helped her haul it on to its wheels.

It felt good to be home again. New York was nice, and after four years in The Big Apple she’d allowed it to take up residence in a special corner of her heart, but there was something about Tokyo that set her at ease. It was the little things, she decided; the small nod of the taxi driver as he loaded her suitcase in to the boot. The lace doilies over the headrests. The brightly coloured vending machines on every corner with bottles of her beloved peach water and Pocari Sweat. She almost asked the driver to pull over several times, only to shake her head. She was on a schedule, after all. She settled in to her seat and pulled out her phone, switching it back on to find two unread e-mails.

The first was from her parents. It had been a challenge to try and convince them that this really was nothing more than a long-overdue trip back home to see friends, and that there certainly wasn’t any other reason for her sudden interest in returning home. Yes, she was going to stay in Odaiba the whole time. No, she didn’t need a Rail Pass. Yes, she had clothing for all occasions and enough money in her savings account to see her through her trip. No, she wouldn’t get mixed up in ‘that digital nonsense’ again. Her mother had written the e-mail, reminding Mimi that they loved her very much and were missing her already and asking her to let them know when she was safe. She quickly tapped out a reply and promised to update them as soon as she was settled in the hotel. They hadn’t been able to afford to come with her, something she was both saddened by and grateful for, because it would have been a lot harder to hide that she was, in fact, getting involved in ‘that digital nonsense’ when they were hovering over her shoulder.

The second email was from Sora. They had always endeavoured to keep in touch in the years since Mimi had moved away, often e-mailing once or twice a month with pleasantries and smalltalk, but since the gates had reopened they’d been e-mailing almost every day (or every other day, allowing for the time difference).

Koushiro hadn’t managed to get his own gate online before the term had ended (he was, in his own words, “frustratingly close”), but he had managed to access the administrative files to see what summer clubs were using the lab and when, which was better than nothing. Mimi was secretly glad, as it meant they would be spending their anniversary weekend educating the newer Chosen Children on what it meant to be a defender of the Digital World. Brave though they may be, their ability to jump back and forth between the worlds hadn’t quite given them the same trial by fire that Mimi and the others had been subjected to.

The Odaiba Hilton wasn’t anything particularly grand – especially when compared to some of the hotels Mimi had stayed in in New York – but it had the benefit of being close enough to see Rainbow Bridge, and was barely a stone’s throw from Shiokaze Park. Mimi checked in, bought a bottle of Pocari Sweat from the vending machine near the elevator, and quickly found her room. She tapped out another e-mail to her sleeping parents before checking the time, delighted to find that she was ahead of schedule.

She opened her suitcase and rummaged for her toiletries before heading for the bathroom and jumping in the shower to scrub away the cabin smell that had settled on her skin and replace it with sweet papaya. After towelling off she slipped in to an outfit that had been buried at the bottom of her suitcase away from her mother’s prying eyes: a short white skirt and a cropped red and blue t-shirt bearing a single golden star. Her mother might have let her do a number of wild and wacky things (like dyeing her hair pink or piercing her ears twice), but she’d always been more of a conservative dresser. Mimi considered a pair of heels before settling on her white knee-high boots with the red straps around the ankles.

She glanced at the time again. A little later than she’d planned, but what better way to arrive than to be fashionably late? The threw the essentials in to a small clutch bag before leaving for the park.

Sora was the first to notice her; Mimi saw her staring from a mile off, squinting and tilting her head in confusion, and when Mimi gave her a smile and a wave Sora shot to her feet with a cry. Several heads snapped in her direction and soon everyone was standing, blinking in surprise or confusion (or both, judging by Jou’s adorably bewildered expression – oh, how she had missed it).

“Ta-da!” she exclaimed. Sora quickly darted around the large picnic blanket and threw her arms around Mimi’s shoulders.

“Why didn’t you tell us you were coming?!” she exclaimed. Mimi squeezed her back tightly.

“Because then it wouldn’t have been a surprise, silly!” Sora pulled back and Mimi wiped a stray tear from her cheek with a smile before turning to Taichi. “You are happy to see me, right?” He smiled – the kind of smile Mimi hadn’t seen in such a very long time – and the tightness she’d been carrying in her chest for the last few years finally began to ease.

“Of course I am.” And Mimi hugged him too, squeezing him extra tight for good measure. When they pulled apart his expression was troubled. “Listen, Mimi, about when you left-”

“Water under the bridge,” she said with a smile and a dismissive wave – partly because it was, but mostly because her eyes hand landed on the two blonds behind him. “Oh – look at you!”

Yamato seemed almost exactly the same; a head taller, maybe (still taller than her at any rate), but his blue eyes were still so serious, hiding behind a lock of blonde hair that kinked across his forehead while the rest flicked out around his collar. Takeru meanwhile had shot up like a weed and was at a height with his brother, if not an inch or two taller. After giving them both a tight squeeze Mimi found Hikari and was relieved to see that at least someone was still shorter than her. She gathered the tiny girl in to her arms and hugged her tightly before smoothing the wrinkles from her jumper and admiring her wild ponytail.

And then there was Jou. He still towered over her – taller than anyone else in the group by far. The Digital World had stripped the last lingering curves of baby fat from his cheeks, leaving him with a chiselled jaw and a long, thin nose. Mimi had been half-expecting to still find him in the sharp sweater vest he’d been so fond of, and so the linen pants and navy button-down shirt were a refreshing surprise. She hugged him the tightest, and tried to ignore how hard it was so let go.

“Mimi!” he spluttered in surprise. She laughed and let him go then, tucking her hands behind her back with a grin. There was a flush in his cheeks now, and he adjusted the collar of his shirt nervously. “Y-You look good!”

“So do you,” she answered sweetly, watching the colour in his cheeks explode in to his ears. Over his shoulder she saw Sora watching them with an expression that suggested she shouldn’t try to push him too far (though there was the hint of a barely-smothered smile tugging at her lips). And so Mimi quickly moved on to Koushiro; they didn’t hug, but Mimi did compliment his new computer bag before turning to the new members of their group.

Sora handled the introductions while Mimi took in her first impressions. She could see now why Sora had referred to Daisuke as a ‘mini-Taichi’ – the resemblance was uncanny, right down to the goggles that were almost lost in his wild hair. Iori was quiet and reserved, and he offered a respectable bow as Sora introduced him which Mimi carefully returned. Miyako was an explosion in almost every sense of the word; her lilac hair tumbled from beneath a burgundy cap, clashing with her lime t-shirt, and once she’d been introduced she immediately launched in to how she was so excited to finally meet Mimi, and that she’d heard so much about her, and she couldn’t wait to hear all of her stories. Mimi grinned at her excitable energy, even as she noticed some of the others pulling away from the younger girl (not to mention the curious stares from the elderly couple strolling past nearby). When Sora suggested they all sit down again Mimi happily settled in beside Miyako, because if anyone knew what it was like to be loud and bubbly in this crowd, it was Mimi, and it would be nice to finally have some back-up.

The digimon hurried out of their hiding places then. Patamon barrelled in to Mimi’s chest, hugging her as best his little legs would allow, and as she scratched behind his ear she was introduced to DemiVeemon, Upamon and Poromon.

“So, where were we up to?” Mimi asked once everyone was settled again.

“Vamdemon,” Koushiro answered. Mimi beamed.

“So there are still lots of good bits left then!” she proclaimed, winking up at Jou and taking perhaps a little more delight in his crimson cheeks than she should have.

They spent the rest of the afternoon in glorious sunshine reliving the rest of their adventures. To Mimi, it felt like a long-overdue catharsis – the kind her parents hoped she would have found with the American therapists they had sent her to for six months before ultimately giving up. Her doctors – a panel of specialists within the field of child psychology – had listened and nodded and scribbled notes before comparing different theories. They didn’t believe her, and after a while Mimi realised that she didn’t want them to. And so she had stopped telling them about the Digital World and Palmon and their wonderful, terrible summer together. This was not a story for strangers and clipboards; it was a story for those who’d been there alongside her, and a story for those who were joining their little team.

As the battle of Apokarimon came to a close, the story split apart. Taichi told them of how they’d been tricked on to the trolley car by Gennai (and judging by the way he spat their former mentor’s name, it seemed he wasn’t entirely over it even with Hikari by his side). Yamato told them how he’d seen the car disappear in to the sunset from the peak of a mountain, while Jou said that he’d only found out the gate had closed after he and Gomamon had ended up at Primary Village some weeks later. Takeru hadn’t seen the trolley car disappearing, but Patamon had flown above the trees and confirmed that the eclipse was over, while Hikari mumbled something about being almost close enough to see them.

As Miyako passed around several bags of food, Jou and the others took it in turns to talk about what had happened to them in the years since the gate had closed. Mimi knew some of their stories from Sora’s updates, but it still saddened her to hear that they’d spent so much of their time alone. She’d always liked to imagine them happy and together.

“There’s so much more to this than I ever thought,” Miyako murmured as their stories came to a close. She hugged Poromon close to her chest. “Being a Chosen Child sounds tough.”

“But rewarding,” Sora said encouragingly. “Of course it’s dangerous, but we’ve had more good times than bad. At least, for the most part…” A tense silence hung in the air as nobody seemed able to agree with her. Mimi shared their hesitation; their adventures within the Digital World might have made them stronger, and now that everyone was back home again she could say with near certainty that she wouldn’t trade them for the world. A few weeks ago, however, and she would definitely have answered differently. She sat up taller, swallowing the last of her grapes as she glanced around the group.

“So, the Kaiser. What’s happening with him?” she asked. Daisuke grinned, apparently eager to finally have something he could talk about.

“We got him on the ropes!” he exclaimed. “We’ve been knocking down spires all over the place, keepin’ him on his toes.”

“A shame that he keeps erecting them,” Iori countered. Daisuke sulked.

“We’re still knockin’ them down faster than he’s puttin’ them up.”

“He’s not really done much lately,” Taichi added in a more serious tone. “The last thing he really did was destroying Jou’s camp and… well…” He glanced at Hikari who gave him a small smile.

“Have you heard from the digimon yet?” Mimi asked. Jou shook his head.

“Nothing, and we can’t get in contact with them,” he answered, his expression grim.

“We tried looking for them, but wherever they’ve gone they’ve covered their tracks well,” Yamato added.

“If they even left tracks to cover,” Jou mumbled under his breath. Mimi heard him nonetheless and she patted his knee.

“I’m sure they’re just fine,” she said firmly before turning back to the others. “There’s really no chance that we can go looking for them today?” Koushiro shook his head.

“We can’t. The computer lab is being used today, and I still don’t have a working copy of the gate on my laptop.” Mimi sighed and folded her hands in her lap.

“Well I suppose it’s for the best.”

“It…is?” Koushiro asked. Mimi flashed him her favourite smile.

“It’s my first day back in Japan in four years, and there are things I want to do before the jetlag kicks in and I pass out in my hotel room,” she said. Koushiro’s brow furrowed.

“Things like…”

“Things like shopping for a start!” The announcement was met with varying levels of surprise and confusion (aside from Sora who rolled her eyes with a fond smile). Yamato and Taichi shared a look of mock disgust and Mimi sniffed at them. “Well, you two can stay away, but Sora you promised that we’d go the next time I came back. And besides, poor Hikari looks like a wardrobe threw up on her.” Hikari stared down at her leggings and baggy jersey (which, Mimi suspected from the Odaiba Middle School print, was likely Taichi’s).

“I thought it looked okay,” she mumbled.

“Sweetie, you’re so cute you could pull off a bin bag, but don’t you want to wear something a little more exciting? Besides, I haven’t been shopping in Japan for – literally – years, and it’s no fun to do it by myself. You guys are welcome to tag along if you want-" The boys couldn’t uninvite themselves fast enough; Taichi made a face at Yamato who rolled his eyes at Takeru, while Koushiro hunkered over his laptop and Jou leant over his shoulder, Iori sat stunned, and Daisuke was silently cackling at Taichi’s theatrics. Mimi pointed to Sora and Hikari. “-But you two aren’t getting out of it. Or you, Miyako.” The girl sat rigid, her eyes wide behind her glasses.

“M-me?!” she squeaked. Mimi nodded with a grin.

“You’re one of us now!” Mimi said, squeezing her hand tightly.

“Which means you get dragged along to fulfil Mimi’s mall urges,” Sora added with a laugh. Mimi stuck out her tongue.

“I think you meant to say ‘included’,” she said, which only made Sora laugh more.


He should have been happy, he thought with a frown. He had finally achieved victory against the insects that had been swarming his world. Moreover, he’d finally managed to get under her skin – to finally make her falter after months of butting heads. He cast his eyes over LadyDevimon and tried to feel some sort of pride, but if anything he felt only the heavy weight of guilt pooling in his stomach, and the persistent whisper in the back of his mind was all too quick to tell him why.

You destroyed her…

He’d returned to his base after his victory, both to fix the mess that was SkullGreymon and to bask in the glory of his newest conquest. He’d turned on his monitors to revel in his victory, but the sound of her broken sobs echoing around his control room had sucked all the joy out of his prize. The ache in his chest had only eased when he’d sent LadyDevimon away, leaving him with a headache that started in the back of his neck and lanced up through his skull.

You’re a monster…

One day, he would find out how to get rid of his pathetic conscience. It had no place in his strategy.

“M-m-master?”

Ken groaned. In the shadow of LadyDevimon, Wormmon was even more useless than before. The click-clack-click of his claws set Ken’s teeth on edge.

“What?” he hissed.

“There’s something on the monitors,” the digimon mumbled, tilting his head towards the screen. Ken rolled his eyes and turned his head. No doubt Wormmon had found a cave or a hole or something equally as useless.

Ken had created the scanner some weeks ago when he’d first run in to Motomiya and his plague of new faces in an attempt to find out where the insects were crawling in from in order to plug the hole. He’d quickly identified their access points – disguised as old television sets – and he’d wasted several days trying to figure out how they worked, to no avail. After failing to destroy any of the terminals he’d found, he’d planted a Dark Tower near each and set his strongest digimon to patrolling nearby, only to find new terminals popping up all over the map. They somehow had a knack of being wherever he wasn’t, and their ability to pinpoint the gaps in his territory were frustratingly impressive.

The marker Wormmon wanted to show him was unlike any other on the map. It was a spot of fierce blue at the edge of a jagged mountain range that looked over a vast, empty plain. There was some sort of small village hidden in the mountains – a melting pot of weak digimon who hid in the ice and snow – but other than that there was nothing around for miles.

“Bring me an Airdramon,” he ordered. He pulled on his gloves and snatched his goggles off the nearby console, glancing over his shoulder towards the shadows. “LadyDevimon, you will accompany me.”

“Yes, master,” she purred.

It didn’t take long to arrive at the site, though Ken had to circle the mountains three times before finding anything of note. Something was carved in to the mountain – a circle divided in two by a wave that emerged on either side as a sharp spike. They landed below it and Ken finally found the source of the strange signal. It was long and bulbous, shaped like a head – a horse, or perhaps a wolf, though if it was a head it was no bigger than a dog’s. It was black all over except for a line of gleaming gold triangles which reminded him of razor-sharp teeth. A silver and gold horn jutted out of the snout, jagged like lightning, and the symbol that was carved on the face of the mountain was emblazoned beneath the horn in a vibrant blue that seemed to pulse and shimmer as they approached.

“A Digimental,” LadyDevimon said in a low tone. Ken glanced at her.

“Digimental…” He ran the word over his tongue, trying to understand why it sounded so familiar.

Digimental, up!

Ah, of course. It was what Motomiya and his gang had taken to shouting before their partners evolved, somehow bypassing the suppression of the Dark Towers. Ken turned to LadyDevimon. “You’ve seen this before?”

“No,” she answered. “But it looks like others that I have seen.” Ken didn’t try to stop the smile that spread over his face.

“Imagine what I could do with this,” he whispered as he reached towards it. “Perhaps this is the key that will finally allow me to overpower those pathetic-”

His fingers touched the cool metallic shell and pain tore its way up his arm as a force slammed in to his chest and sent him flying backwards. The electricity coursing through his veins seared his skin, leaving him blinded by the pain until he hit the ground heavily. He hauled himself to his knees, wheezing and peeling back his gloves. His skin felt seared, but there was no sign of damage. He glanced up at the Digimental, finding himself several feet away from where he’d been standing moments ago. LadyDevimon drifted towards him, an amused smirk pulling at her blackened lips.

“You knew that would happen,” he spat as he dragged himself to his feet with a grimace.

“I did.”

“Why didn’t you warn me?”

“You didn’t ask me to.”

His breath hitched. He shouldn’t have had to ask; the urge to protect him from known harm was hard-wired in to the coding of the rings and spirals. Allowing the Digimental to hurt him was a direct violation of the spiral’s fundamental programming. But how?

He clenched his jaw; one mystery at a time.

He returned to the Digimental, approaching it carefully and crouching down beside it. He reached a hand out towards it again, but even before his fingers had touched the surface a warning jolt of static pierced his skin and he pulled his hand back with a curse.

“You won’t be able to touch it,” LadyDevimon drawled. “It can only be lifted by a Chosen Child worthy of bearing the Crest of Friendship.”

“You dare tell me I’m unworthy of-”

“I don’t see any friends around here.” He straightened and turned to her with a glare, though it had little effect. If anything, she seemed almost amused.

“When I want your useless opinion, I will ask for it, but I wouldn’t advise you to hold your breath.” LadyDevimon’s lips curled, but she remained silent as Ken returned to studying the Digimental. He didn’t need it – Ken had towers and spirals and rings to give him all the power he desired – but why would those pathetic fools be any more worthy of these strange powers than he was? Why would this Digimental be eligible for them to claim, but not him?

“Someone placed this here to mock me,” he grumbled. LadyDevimon shifted.

“This world doesn’t revolve around you,” she muttered under her breath, but he heard her nonetheless. Ken stifled a growl and curled his fingers in to fists as he turned towards her.

“I have warned you-”

“Do you know anything about the Digital World?” she asked, louder this time. She folded her arms and shifted her weight, popping a chain-covered hip as she sneered down at him. “You’re not being mocked. The Digital World is simply defending itself-”

“Silence!” he ordered. He unclipped his digivice from his belt and squeezed it tight, strengthening his connection to the dark spiral around LadyDevimon’s arm. She grimaced. “This is my world-”

“The Digital World isn’t just some land to be conquered,” she countered. “It’s a living, sentient thing. You think the return of the Chosen Children is a coincidence? They’re a defence mechanism. The Digital World has called upon them to purge the virus that is the Kaiser-”

“Return to the base!” LadyDevimon froze, still as stone aside from the occasional twitch as she fought to disobey the order. He squeezed his digivice again and she finally submitted, turning on her heel and taking to the sky in silence. Ken clenched his jaw and called after her: “Send me Wormmon!” Annoying as the creature was, he at least followed orders. LadyDevimon’s fading ‘yes, master’ drifted towards him on the breeze as she disappeared into the clouds.

A defence mechanism… It wasn’t entirely dissimilar to theories he’d entertained himself. He had been playing the easy game, defeating digimon and planting his towers and easily overpowering the other characters in his story. It made sense that the game would need to level up at one point or another, and when new faces started to appear he’d first assumed them to be nothing more than new foes for him to fight. He’d dismissed the idea when he’d seen them at the soccer game, at which point he’d decided that they were instead players from another instance invading his server.

LadyDevimon’s thinking was backwards, he decided. Her approach was a simplistic, reductionist method to try and comprehend facts beyond her understanding. She didn’t have the knowledge that he did – didn’t have access to the higher secrets Ken had been gifted that allowed him to create and control. She couldn’t possibly know the real truths of this world; truths only Ken understood. A defence mechanism… It was a valiant attempt at an explanation, granted, but one that fell far short of the mark.

The greater and more immediate concern, beside that of the Digimental before him, was that she was fighting him. Talking back, disobeying his direct order for silence, allowing the Digimental to hurt him… His control over her wasn’t as assured as he’d first thought. He’d known that she was strong – her previous form had more than proven that she was an above average digimon, even by Adult standards – but he’d never expected her Perfect form to be quite so troublesome. On the one hand she wasn’t nearly as bad as SkullGreymon in that she was at least partly controllable, but her ability to undermine his control made her a threat; one that he would need to extinguish sooner rather than later-

“M-Master?” Ken jumped as Wormmon’s voice pulled him from his thoughts, and Ken quickly hid his surprise behind a glare.

“I need this protecting until I can find a way to take care of it. Build something around it – build Fort Knox if you have to – and guard it with your life and the lives of any digimon you need. Those children cannot be allowed to get their hands on it.” Wormmon nodded and scurried closer, examining the Digimental and its immediate surroundings. It was almost endearing watching the cogs of his little mind turn.

Ken snapped his fingers and Airdramon swooped down from the clouds to take him back to the base. Even if he couldn’t have the powers for himself, there must have been some sort of key in the coding of the Digimental that would allow him to understand how this newer form of evolution worked. And once he understood that, he could update his suppression protocols. A simple patch to the network, and all his problems would be solved.

This world would be his, one way or another.


Miyako had never enjoyed spending time at the mall. On the rare afternoons when she didn’t have school or a shift at her family’s convenience store, she was on the first train out to Akihabara to raid the electronics stores, and she passed the major high streets without so much as a second glance.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want pretty clothes and fancy shoes. Quite the opposite, in fact, and she had several notebooks filled with cutouts of idols and magazine models dressed in the latest fashions. But her family ran a tight ship and an even tighter budget, and Miyako had spent the better part of her life in her siblings’ hand-me-down clothing. The few times she ventured in to high street clothing stores were to peruse end-of-season sales, but when confronted with the choice of spending her hard-earned Yen on a shirt that would never fit the same after she’d washed it, or a video game that promised countless hours of enjoyment, the choice was an easy one.

Mimi seemed to have no such reservations when it came to clothing. She dragged them on a whirlwind tour, visiting shops Miyako had never even heard of before, picking out clothes and shoes and bags with wild abandon. The price tags made Miyako’s eyes bulge and her head spin. A handbag alone cost more than she could dream of earning in a month, even if she picked up all her siblings’ shifts. Sora didn’t seem phased by it and barely glanced at the tags in between laughing at Mimi’s antics, while Hikari would sometimes squint down at the label before leaning in to Sora to ask, “Is this a lot?”

It made Miyako uncomfortable. She’d had the value of money drilled in to her since childhood, when her father would ask her to man the calculator to triple check the accounts with him at the end of every month. She tried to tell herself that it was disdain for Mimi’s recklessness that made her stomach twist so painfully, but in truth it was a bitter feeling of jealousy.

She swallowed it as best she could, and whenever Mimi handed her some item of clothing to try on she would smile and admire it in the privacy of the changing room before sneaking it back out on to the rack. “It doesn’t fit me right,” she said when Sora caught her. “It’s really not my style,” she told Hikari. Finally, when it was Mimi catching her red-handed, she was able to squeak out: “It clashes with my hair.”

Mimi had seemed to take it personally, and Miyako had wished the ground would swallow her whole. She’d been racking her brain for some excuse to leave when Mimi had plucked the outfit back off the discarded garments rail and thrust it back in to her arms, demanding to see it for herself. Miyako had reluctantly shuffled out of the dressing room in navy jeans, a ruffled burgundy shirt and a lightweight black jacket, and Mimi had squealed in delight.

“See? I told you I knew what would look good on you!” Mimi had exclaimed. Miyako had ducked back in to the changing room and slipped back in to her clothes, intent on putting the (admittedly gorgeous) outfit back where they’d found it, but Mimi had other plans. She swiped the clothes from Miyako’s hands and had taken them straight to the counter without listening to a word of Miyako’s protests.

“This one’s on me,” she’d said, handing a fancy-looking credit card to the clerk. Miyako had shuffled awkwardly while the items were rung up and charged, not wanting to make a scene, but when Mimi held out the bags for her to take Miyako found her arms glued to her sides.

“I won’t be able to pay you back,” she blurted, feeling heat rising in her cheeks. Mimi smiled and tilted her head.

“Well then it’s a good job I won’t be asking!” She thrust the bags in to Miyako’s hands and looped their arms together, dragging her from the store. “Being a Chosen Child is tough, but at least you can look and feel fabulous while doing it. And trust me, good clothes are worth their weight in gold – you’ll thank me when those jeans don’t fall apart in the middle of a fight.”

“But, I-”

“It’s a gift,” Mimi had stressed, squeezing her arm tightly. “A little welcome to the team present!”

The present ended up being three further outfits, two pairs of shoes, and a handbag that could turn in to a small rucksack if you looped the shoulder strap in the right way. Eventually Miyako had submitted, and had allowed herself to imagine how her sisters would envy her her wardrobe and how nice it would be to wear something that was new and totally, unquestionably hers.

The ordeal had been made somewhat easier when she realised that Hikari was being subjected to a similar treatment. She too had protested, telling Mimi several times that she and Taichi had been shopping and she already had a whole new wardrobe. Mimi replied that whilst Taichi hadn’t exactly done a bad job, Hikari’s wardrobe needed ‘a woman’s touch’. They had been walking past a women’s boutique when Mimi had been struck by the sudden thought that Taichi probably wouldn’t have even considered what Hikari would need to wear under her clothes. When Miyako had pointed out that it wasn’t Taichi’s job, and that surely Hikari’s mother would see to that, Sora had suggested that she and Miyako go off to try and find if any of the nearby hair salons had availability for walk-ins – the last task on Mimi’s list of mall goals.

They’d eventually found one a block away from the main shopping street. It was small and fairly new, and when Sora asked if they could squeeze in four cuts the woman at the desk had pursed her lips.

“It would be difficult,” she said in a voice which suggested the real answer was a solid ‘no’. “We might be able to do three before we close… but four… four would be very difficult.”

“That’s fine!” Mimi had chirped down the phone when Sora had called her with the news. “I had my hair done last weekend. You guys go ahead – Hikari and I will be there in just a minute. Ooh – maybe I’ll get my nails done instead!”

And that was how Miyako found herself wrapped in a hairdresser’s cloak with a stranger’s fingers in her hair. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had her hair cut in a salon; it had become somewhat of a tradition for her sister Chizuru to trim the ends with kitchen scissors every other month or so, and Miyako couldn’t wait to see how much different her hair would look in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing.

As the stylist led her away from the sinks and to a nearby station, Miyako caught sight of Hikari. She was sitting in the waiting area, staring down at her lap while she waited for a stylist to become available. Miyako wondered if Hikari was as tired as Miyako felt – they’d only been in the mall a few hours and already Miyako’s shoulders and feet were aching. She certainly looked tired, Miyako thought, judging by the way her shoulders drooped and how her eyes were half-closed and the way she flickered like a bad TV signal-

Miyako froze, turning fully towards Hikari. A stylist was approaching, and Hikari lifted her head with a bright smile, allowing the stylist to drape a cloak around her shoulders and lead her to the wash basins. Perhaps it had been a trick of light, Miyako thought. After all, people didn’t flicker.

(People also didn’t make a habit of disappearing inside computer monitors to battle digital monsters.)

Miyako’s stylist was staring at her, and Miyako ducked her head and quickly shuffled in to the seat that had been pulled out for her. Soon she was distracted by the stylist who asked her questions – What was her daily hair routine? Did she prefer to wear it up or down? What did she think about bangs? – and then the stylist got to work. Miyako couldn’t see Hikari from where she was sitting, but she could hear snippets of conversation and laughter from her and Sora who seemed to be sitting near to each other, and the knot in her stomach loosened a fraction. A trick of the light, an overactive imagination, and more than a pinch of exhaustion – that’s all it had been, Miyako decided.

By the time Miyako was finished, she found Mimi and Sora in the waiting area surrounded by bags. Sora’s auburn hair had been chopped in to layers that gleamed like burnished copper under the salon lights. Mimi shot to her feet when she spotted Miyako.

“See! I told you you’d look great with bangs,” she said with a proud smile. Miyako ran a hand through her silky hair nervously.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you,” she babbled. “I know you said you won’t ask, but this is – I mean – I can try and get you a family discount. At my store. My parents’ store. It’s just a convenience store, but the onigiri are really good, and we have a pretty good stationery section-”

“Miyako – breathe,” Mimi laughed. “You don’t owe me anything.”

Hikari arrived then, and Mimi squealed at the sight of her. Her long hair was gone, replaced by a short choppy cut that barely reached the base of her neck at the back. The hair at the front was longer, and the side-swept bangs dipped just below her jawline.

“You look adorable!” Mimi gushed. The receptionist appeared with her bags and her coat, and Mimi followed the woman back to the counter to settle their bill.

The street was much quieter by the time they left the salon, and the sunlight had turned to a hazy shade of gold. Mimi had taken the lead, determined to find at least one more store for them to browse before turning in for the night, and Sora was keeping pace and trying to talk her out of it.

“It’s late, Mimi. Why don’t you come back to mine for dinner? I’m sure my mom won’t mind if I call ahead now and let her know.”

“But Soraaaaa…”

Miyako was finding it hard to keep up. Her feet were on fire, and every step sent a murmur of pain running through her knees. Hikari was walking beside her, equally exhausted. She met Miyako’s eye and offered her a tired smile. A breeze brushed Miyako’s arm and she shivered.

“Hey, Hikari…” she began. (She was nervous. Why was she nervous? She and Hikari weren’t exactly as close as Sora and Mimi, but after the last week or two they were definitely no longer strangers. She was right to feel concerned, wasn’t she? Even if she couldn’t figure out what she was concerned about.) “Are you okay?” Hikari smiled and nodded.

“I’d be a little better if I could feel my fingers,” she laughed, glancing down at the bags in her hands. Miyako laughed and quickly agreed.

She must have imagined it, Miyako decided as they all went their separate ways. She tried to set the memory aside but it stuck with her for the rest of the evening, keeping her distracted as she helped Mantarou prepare dinner and when she settled in to a hot bath to soothe the aches from her bones. It was just a trick of the light, she told herself as she slipped in to her pyjamas and into bed as Poromon turned out the light. She hugged her partner close to her chest and buried herself under her blankets, trying to think of anything but the flicker, but as she drifted in to sleep she watched her friends and family flicker and fade one by one until she was left alone in the dark.


“I can’t breathe!”

Takeru stumbled in to the kitchen in a teary haze, just about able to reach for a clean glass and fill it with cold water as Yamato stumbled in behind him, laughing and wheezing all at once.

“Not water,” his brother laughed. He pulled the glass from Takeru’s hand and replaced it with another. “Here, drink this.” Takeru gulped it blindly, choking on the unexpected thickness.

“Milk?” he spluttered. Yamato laughed and poured a glass for himself.

“Water won’t do you any favours,” he said, closing the fridge and taking a sip. Takeru brushed the last of the tears on the back of his hand before draining the glass.

“What is wrong with you?” Takeru wheezed. The milk had helped a little, but there was still a searing heat lining his throat, making it difficult to speak. Yamato shrugged.

“I like my food hot.”

“Hot? I feel like I’ve got a family of Meramon living in my stomach!” he proclaimed as Patamon swept in to the kitchen, rubbing sleep from his eyes.

“Takeru! Are you okay?” he asked. Takeru laughed and held out his arms to catch his partner. Patamon burrowed against Takeru’s shirt, blinking his large blue eyes up at him, and Takeru laughed despite the pain in his mouth.

“I’m fine, Pata,” he said, scratching his partner behind the ear. The front door clicked and Takeru heard a heavy sigh that could only belong to their father.

“I’m home,” he groaned, and Takeru heard him collapse heavily against the couch. He shared a glance with Yamato who was frowning at the doorway, and together they moved in to the lounge.

“Is everything okay?” Takeru asked as he sat on the edge of the nearest armchair with Patamon cradled in his arms. Their father ran a hand over his weary face.

“Just a crazy day at the station,” he sighed. “Half my staff are talking about handing in their notice, and the ones that aren’t might just be going crazy. I walked in to Wantanabe’s office earlier today and he was burning sage and muttering about spirits and ghosts…”

“Maybe he’s been working too hard,” Yamato suggested. Hiroaki shook his head.

“He’s not the only one. Ryotaro and Natsuki are going around telling everyone there’s a ghost in the computer. And then there’s Nobu in the sound department – came running in to my office this afternoon telling me the sound had disappeared. He was in the middle of editing and suddenly all he could hear was… I can’t even describe it. He thinks the station’s haunted too.”

“What do you think?” Takeru asked. Hiroaki glanced between them then, the answer written in the lines of his face. Yamato perched on the arm of Takeru’s chair with a frown.

“You think it’s something digital.” Hiroaki sighed and nodded.

“I think everything’s something digital. Always have, ever since…” He gestured towards them and Takeru felt his stomach twist. Hiroaki gave him a tired smile. “I mean, I’ll admit, I’ve seen things around the office. A shadow, or something moving in the corner of your eye… I thought it was just some of the new interns, things always get interesting this time of year until they settle in, but now I don’t know what to believe.” Takeru glanced at Yamato who hummed thoughtfully.

“We were planning on visiting the station tomorrow,” said Yamato. “The new kids are coming too, so we’ll have Patamon and their partner digimon with us. If it’s something digital, I’m sure we’ll find it.” Their father grimaced.

“I don’t like the idea of you boys getting yourselves in to trouble,” he grumbled, “but I guess I can’t stop you. Your mother might be a different story if she finds out.”

“She called earlier,” Takeru said. “She won’t be back for another couple of days. Apparently her article is taking longer than she expected.”

“Who knew toilet paper could be so fascinating?” Hiroaki laughed. He leant forwards and reached in to his briefcase. “Will you boys be all right if I disappear for a while? Kimi at work gave me these meditation tapes and I figured I’d give them a try.” Yamato leant closer, examining the cassette with a bewildered frown.

Sounds of Africa?” he asked. Their father nodded and loaded the cassette in to the player, fiddling with the tangled cable of his headphones.

“It’s a soothing recording of wildebeest on the move,” he answered. “It’s supposed to help with stress and, well, I’m willing to try just about anything at this point. I’ll be right here if you need me.” He slipped the headphones in to his ears and closed his eyes, loading up the tape with a deep calming breath. “I am a wildebeest. A happy little wildebeest. I am a wildebeest…”