"Thank you for choosing Hirano's Flowers," Saki politely bowed to the customer. "Have a nice day!"
Once they left, she slumped against the counter and groaned. "I'm so tired..." She whispered. Running a hand through her short but curly light brown hair, she idly picked at the minute amount of dirt and flower debris on her. Working in a flower shop every day meant that she was used to being dirty, and in a way, she liked knowing that her hard work tending to the flowers meant customers were happy, but who wanted to work every day?
Every day was the same thing. She would wake up, go to school, leave for the flower shop immediately after her school club hours- in the gardening club, of course- work until the store closes, wash up, eat dinner, do her homework, then go to bed. On weekends, she had to work here all day from opening to closing. Rinse, and repeat.
Saki was so sick and tired of her schedule.
"Stop slouching, young lady!" Her mom scolded her from the backroom where she was tending to the more temperature sensitive plants. "You have to look kind and inviting as the storefront!"
Saki withheld a huge sigh and reluctantly stood up. "Yes, mom..." She halfheartedly answered.
Her mother shook her head. "Honestly, what am I going to do with you? You're supposed to be my Saki: my hopeful blossom that will bloom into a beautiful girl who will someday inherit the business!" She tsked and walked away. "At least the beautiful part was true."
Saki rolled her eyes and smoothed out her light green summer dress underneath her apron. "Because they're your genes, yes yes, mother," She answered with a long suffering sigh.
She couldn't even complain without her mother coming down on her about how she was being ungrateful, that it was unladylike to complain, that she should hold herself as beautifully as a flower. She loved flowers, but even she had a limit. Working in the family shop meant nothing to her. All her wages only went back to her mother.
If she could just have one day off, she could do so many things. She could...She could play games. She could go shopping. She could hang out with her classmates and be better friends with the people in the gardening club at school. She could be a normal teenager.
If only her boss wasn't also her mother.
"Saki!" Her mother called out from the backroom. "Do me a favor and take some nice lilies to pass out on the street as advertisement, and make sure you look pretty while you're at it!"
"Yes, mom," Saki monotonously replied, doing as she was told.
Making sure she looked her best- or else her mother might kill her- Saki pasted on her customer service smile and stood outside of the shop. The flower shop was situated on a popular main street with lots of other stores, so there were always people to entice.
"Need flowers for special occasions? Come to Hirano's Flowers!" Saki announced, holding pure white and pink lilies in her hands. "We have all the flowers to make beautiful bouquets with whatever message you'd like!"
Most people walked passed without a glance, but some stopped to come up to her, interested in getting a flower for free. One boy stood back, hand in his pocket, and frowned thoughtfully at the flowers in her hand.
Noticing his interest, Saki held a lily out to him with a smile. "Would you like a flower? We have more inside!"
The boy seemed taken aback by her offer. He was dressed in a blue tracksuit, leaving the zipper open to show a yellow t-shirt. He had long dark blue hair tied back in a low ponytail, and the rest was covered by a weirdly striped blue bandana.
He blinked a couple times, but slowly reached out and took the flower. "...Do you guys do anniversary bouquets?" He asked quietly after a moment.
Saki smiled. "Yes, we do! I can help you with that, or well..." She looked down at the flowers in her hands. Her mother would be upset if she didn't finish advertising their store. "My mom can help since she's the boss. Go right on inside."
The boy gave her a grateful nod and walked inside.
Saki smiled after him and turned back to continue advertising. It was nice to see a boy not get grossed out at the thought of flowers. She wondered what kind of anniversary he was buying for. Could it be for his girlfriend? He looked like he was around her age though, so unless he's been dating since he was 12, it must be for something else. If she had the energy and time, she would've thought he was cute.
Giving out several flowers, all with a forced smile on her face, Saki yelped when a much older man leered down at her. "Pretty flowers from a pretty girl, it must be my lucky day!" He grinned.
She tried to keep the smile on her face to be polite and took a step back, but dread and fear clawed at her when he also took a step forward, making all her progress null. "Um...W-Would you like a free flower?" She forced through her clenched teeth.
"Only if you come with it, little lady," The man smiled, showing yellow teeth. Coupled with his sweat stained shirt and protruding belly, he looked every part a predator.
Beginning to tremble, Saki took a deep breath and was about to run back into the store-
"Excuse me, what's going on here?" The boy from earlier walked up behind her with a challenging frown toward her harasser. "Is everything okay?"
"U-Um," Saki stammered, heart pounding a mile a minute with fear that was quickly morphing into relief. "It's the end of my shift, you can have the rest of these flowers, have a good day sir!" She said quickly, almost shoving the lilies into the creep- the lilies that were wilted and crushed from her anxious hands- and sped back into the shop.
Hearing footsteps behind her, Saki looked up with dread but relaxed when she noticed it was the boy in the blue tracksuit. The creep had disappeared from her storefront. "...Th-Thank you for stepping in," She whispered, bowing slightly to show her gratitude.
"No problem," The boy responded with a frown. "I hate people like him. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I..." Saki was about to say yes, but paused. "...No. No, I'm not okay," She breathed out. Had she ever been okay? If she had stayed a moment longer, that horrible pervert could've tried to touch her, or, or worse. She's done advertising before, and there have been the occasional weirdo, but this was the first time it had ever gotten so bad.
Tears welled up in her eyes. And all for what? Just so her mom's store could make a little more money?
The boy instinctively took a step back when he noticed her wet eyes. "H-Hey, it's okay," He awkwardly fumbled over his words. "He's gone now, so don't cry...Um..."
Sniffling, Saki covered her face with her hands. "I'm sorry, you only came for flowers. I'll-I'll be okay, I just need to take a breather. Thank you again for that-"
"Saki!" Her mother called out with a disappointed voice as she walked toward the counter from the backroom. "I thought I asked you to hand out flowers outside!"
Something inside her snapped.
Turning to her mother with glaring eyes, Saki tore her apron off and threw it at her. "I'm leaving!" She yelled, running out of the store in a hurry. She ignored the sound of her mom calling out for her, as well as the boy's surprised gasp, and ran and ran and ran.
She didn't stop running until she reached Yoyogi Park. Slowing to a stop, her chest heaved from the force of her short breaths. Her hands balled into fists, with her nails digging crescent marks into her palms.
Taking a seat on a deserted bench, she curled up into a ball and tried to slow her sobs. "She just...doesn't understand a thing..!" Her arms trembled around her knees. "All she cares about is the shop, not me...I'm just a free worker...I hate it. I hate it. I hate her!"
Why couldn't her mother just let her have a break? Why did she have to make her work every day at the flower shop with her? Couldn't she see how much her own daughter was suffering from not being able to do anything but work?
Ever since her mom started to make her work at the store, she had slowly lost all her friends because she didn't have time to hang out with them. She couldn't do anything; All her time was eaten up at the shop.
She was just harassed by some creepy guy and all her mother cared about was whether or not she had brought more customers to their flower shop.
"I wish..." Saki whispered, hot tears running down her face. "I wish I could be free. I want to be able to do something that isn't work...I want to be away from here..."
Saki lifted her head. "Who said that...?" She hesitantly asked, wiping away her tears. There was no one else around in this part of the park, so who could've-?
Her cellphone buzzed in her skirt pocket, and she took it out. Instead of a regular screen, it was filled with static. A strange circular symbol stared back at her.
"Hirano Saki. Your destiny awaits you. Will you take the risk to try to find your freedom?"
Saki furrowed her brow. "What the..? Is this some kind of joke?" Her phone sent her a voicemail message asking her about freedom just as she mentioned it herself? Was someone hacking the phone lines and sending spam?
The voice didn't speak out again, and the screen waited for her input. Both options stood out to her like a looming shadow. It wanted her decision, and it wanted it now.
She clenched her jaw. What did she have to lose at this point? If she went back now, her mother would ground her forever and make her work even more in the shop as punishment.
Saki pressed YES.
"Take the 5:45 train to Shibuya station."
She looked at the time on a nearby clock. 5:42 already. Wiping away the last of her tears, she bolted out of the park and toward the nearest station. She had to stop at a ticket machine and was about to insert a 100 yen coin, but the machine made a noise and spat out a special red ticket stub.
Stunned, Saki took it. Her destiny, huh?
Making it just in time for the train, she hopped on, out of breath. Her phone made a small jingle, as did several other phones on the train, and she realized belatedly that they were also getting the same message as she was. Another strange thing she noticed was that they were all kids, too. All 14 and under.
Saki furrowed her brow, anxious and worried. This wasn't some weird scam targeted to children, was it?
"Transfer to the 6 o'clock train at the Sub level of Shibuya Station."
This sounded sketchier by the minute...
The train soon stopped at Shibuya station, and she headed for the nearest elevator. Several other kids followed after her, and they all looked at each other, lost.
"Did...Did you guys all get a message, too?" One of them asked.
The doors closed and soon they were heading down...and down...and down.
Saki stared through the windows with wide eyes. Since when did Shibuya go down so far underground?
After what seemed to be an eternity but was most likely only a few minutes, the elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open, revealing a circular platform full of weirdly shaped and colored trains. Each train was unique; Some were lumpy, some were round, some had weird horns. They came in a variety of colors, too. Pink, blue, brown, red, green.
The other kids stepped out and Saki slowly followed their lead, almost stumbling down the small steps. "What is this..?" She whispered.
"Your destiny lies before you. You will find the freedom you yearn for, and in time, you will bloom into your own person."
She looked down at her phone and gulped nervously. "I-I hope so..." She clutched her device in both hands like a safety net and slowly approached the closest train. It was a faded shade of turquoise, somewhere between green and blue, and hesitantly stepped inside.
It had beautiful interior as far as trains went. It wasn't anything like the trains in Tokyo. Rather, it felt more classy, like a private coach. The interior was a warm brown with carpeted floors and velvet seating. No one else was on this train, or at least, in this carriage, and for the first time in her life, Saki felt alone.
Her mother wasn't bearing down at her at least, but she didn't have any friends or classmates with her, either.
Letting out a quiet sigh, Saki took a seat and leaned back. "Well, this is freedom, isn't it?"
A whistle broke through the silence and the train rumbled underneath her. She turned around in her seat and watched with held breath as the train slowly pulled out of the station. She could see every other train do the same thing, all of them carrying other kids with them.
Where was this train taking her..?
The train entered the tunnel and her vision of the other trains disappeared. She slowly turned back around and tried to get comfortable, but it just wasn't possible. The silence was stifling. The reality of being the only one on this train was quickly becoming a nightmare, and she fidgeted with her phone to try to distract herself. She had no one to talk to, anyway. There was no one else here, and she didn't have any service, either.
After who knows how many games of snake, Saki was suddenly jolted out of her seat and was sent careening to the floor. "Ow! What-?!" The lights dimmed, bathing the entire train in darkness, but as she pushed herself off the floor, she saw...something. For a moment, her hand wasn't her hand.
It was purple.
A glow of light and a whirring noise caught her attention and she saw her phone a few feet away, having fallen out of her grasp. It glowed so brightly that she had to squint, and all of a sudden, it wasn't a phone anymore. It was some sort of weird device in green and purple.
Scrambling over to it, Saki picked it up and stared at it in a stupor. "What in the world..?"
The same symbol from before stared back at her through the small screen on the top left corner.
"Welcome to the Digital World, Saki. This is your D-Tector."
Before Saki could question the voice, the entire carriage was filled with light as all of a sudden, the train rushed out of the tunnel and into the outside world again with a loud whistle. She blinked away the tears and rushed over to the window in awe. "The train is in the air?!"
She could see other tracks to the left and right of her train, all of them somehow suspended in the air without any support beams or anything. The sky was a beautiful blue with clouds so fluffy, she swore she could reach out and pluck them like cotton candy.
It felt like she had left Tokyo and had entered Wonderland.
Small little blobs caught her eye and she looked up through the window. White blobby...creatures, were flying peacefully through the air, and came closer to the train. They had large black eyes and mouths, and looked more like cute plushies than any animal she had ever seen.
Saki cautiously waved to one of them and to her surprise, one of them pressed up against the window like a ball of slime. A slightly hysterical giggle left her mouth. "H-Hi! L-Little guy..."
With a coo, the blob flew away with the rest of the flock, leaving her alone again. She slowly slumped down onto a seat. What kind of world had she ended up in?
The train let out another loud whistle and slowed to a stop. All the doors swung open, and Saki took her first step outside into the new world, her white tennis shoes meeting hard steel. The "digital" world. No one else was at this strange station, and hers was the only train that had pulled up here.
"Maybe there's a conductor I can ask?" Saki whispered hopefully.
The train moved behind her, almost comically, and the front turned back to look directly at her. "This is Flame Terminal, miss," It spoke to her. "I'm a trailmon, so I'm your train and your conductor."
Her mouth hung open. Her train talked? A train talked. IT TALKED. "I...H-Hello," She stammered. "I'm sorry, I don't know what a trailmon is. Um, where is Flame Terminal exactly?"
Its headlights blinked at her, acting as eyes. "I'm a train digimon, ya know. I may look like a train and act like a train, but I'm alive with feelings!"
"...Okay," Saki uttered. Because what else could she say.
"The Flame Terminal is home to a lot of fire digimon, but if you walk north of here, you'll find the forests that'll lead ya to Forest Terminal."
"Am I supposed to head there?" Saki questioned cautiously.
The train shrugged. Somehow. It looked like a shrug to her, which was really weird. "Beats me, but I gotta jet. Good luck, miss!" And without missing a beat, it chugged backwards out of the station.
"Wait!" Saki reached out with one hand. "I still have so many questions!"
"You're not the only human here!" The trailmon yelled out as he left. "Find them or ask the locals or something!" And with that, he was gone.
Saki stared after it before turning to look at Flame Terminal. There was a flame lit everywhere she looked; on top of buildings, windows, and from chimneys. Even the buildings looked like they were sculpted clay ovens, except everything was made out of steel.
She took a deep breath, and slowly let it out, trying to fight against her rising panic. "Well...You got your freedom," She whispered to herself.
It was lonelier than she realized.
"Okay, Saki..." She spoke to herself. "Let's try to find some people. Maybe they can tell you more than what the train did..."
Even though she said this, she couldn't move an inch. Looking down at her feet, she saw that her legs were trembling.
Saki hugged herself. There was no one else around, and she didn't know who she could trust here. What if the locals were like the creep who tried to touch her? What if they weren't nice? Would she starve to death, or worse?
"I..." She gulped. "I...I'm here to find my destiny. My destiny. It means freedom..." She repeated to herself like some sort of mantra. If she said it enough, maybe she would finally feel brave.
Clenching her fists, she forced herself to move. Right foot first. It shook, and it felt like her knees would give out on her, but they held their strength. She took another step, left foot this time. Right. Left. Right. Left.
Soon enough, she had left the station and walked into the town proper. The steel ground beneath her clanked with every step, and she winced at how loud she was. Everywhere she looked, nothing stood out as familiar. Every surface was covered in a dark grey steel; cold and uninviting. At times, she could see small shadows in the corner of her eye, but by the time she turned to look, they were gone, and it didn't help her steadily rising panic.
There were no other footsteps she could hear, but a little farther away, she could hear faint giggling and conversation.
Saki perked up and walked faster. People?
Turning around at one of the buildings, she froze when instead of the humanoid figures she was expecting, she was greeted with pink birds. These birds weren't regular sized birds, either, they were about the same size as a five year old.
"...And then the Trailmons all left, saying they're going to pick up humans!" One of the birds finished their story.
The others gasped. "Really? There's going to be humans coming? Oh," A bird wrung their hand-like wings together. "Should we greet them?"
"We should! We should!"
"Us Biyomon are the nicest digimon around, and we don't want any of the Pagumon or Gazimon to scare them away. We could ask Palmon for help, too!"
Biyomon? Pagumon? Poyomon? All these "mons" were making her head spin, but Saki really didn't have any choice but to approach them. "Um, excuse me?" Saki called out politely. The birds turned to her in surprise. "Hello, my name is Hirano Saki. Could you help me?"
"Oh wow!" A Biyomon chirruped. "A human is already here!"
One of them came up to her and shook her hand. "Hello, Saki!" It greeted her happily with a lyrical voice. "Welcome to the Digital World! I'm sorry we haven't got a better welcome party for you, but I hope you enjoy your time here! We weren't expecting the humans to arrive for a while so you're a surprise to us all!"
Saki stared at them with wide eyes, and smiled. "Th-Thank you. I'm uh, sorry. This is all a little strange for me..."
Another Biyomon came up and tugged at her skirt. It was a good thing she wore white leggings underneath. "We'll help you! We'll bring you to where the Palmon live. Flame Terminal isn't really a nice place for humans, I'm sure. You look like you'll burn easy!"
She laughed nervously at the thought. "Yeah, I don't do well near fire. Humans aren't very fireproof. What are Palmon?"
They began to tug her toward the direction of the far-off forests outside of the village. "Palmon are plant digimon!" One of the Biyos answered. "They live in the forest just outside!"
"And," Saki interrupted. "What are digimon? And the Digital World?"
"Digimon is short for digital monsters!" Biyomon answered happily. "We come in all shapes and sizes here in the Digital World. Our world is different from the human world, and we've never heard of humans coming here before!"
Saki blinked. "So...everything here is...digital?"
"Yup! We're all made up of data!"
Saki looked down at herself. If this world was fully digital, then was she also digital now that she had come here? There was a Japanese myth that if a human enters the spirit world, they can never leave. Did the same apply to her here?
"Okay, hang on tight!"
Before Saki could ask, two of the Biyomons flew up and lifted her with them by her shoulders using their yellow talons. "Whoa!" She yelped, her hands instinctively holding her dress down. "We-We're flying there?!"
"We have to! The land around Flame Terminal was digitized, so you can't walk there!"
Saki looked down and gasped at what she saw.
Where there used to be ground connecting the terminal to the rest of the land, it was now a gaping void. There was absolutely nothing that could be seen down below except a strange grey mist. It was all just a huge maw that seemed to extend down forever.
Twisting her head around, she saw that Flame Terminal was technically floating as well. Did all the lands "float" around the core of the earth here, held up by the mist?
The flight was short, and soon enough, she was gently let down on lush grass. "Thank you for the lift." She patted one of the Biyomons on the head. It blushed and nuzzled against her.
They walked the rest of the way deeper into the forest. It was a beautiful forest, too. The grass was bright green and shining with fresh dew. The trees grew tall and healthy, and the skies above promised sunny days.
It seemed like a paradise so far.
"This way, this way!" A Biyomon tugged her into the foliage.
They walked for a long while, so long that Saki was starting to get tired. She stood a lot at work but this pace was a little brutal on her poor legs, and tennis shoes weren't the best for long walks. They talked in the meanwhile, with Saki firing off all the questions that came to mind at the Biyomons.
Did they have males and females? No, but they can look masculine or feminine.
Did they have individual names or were they only referred to as their race? They have names but only when they're with their own kind. Otherwise, they're Biyomon to others.
How come they knew she was a human? Instinct, and her strange appearance gave her away.
Saki smiled brightly down at them while they chatted. It was nice to talk to people normally, even if they weren't the same species as her. Having friends again was so nice.
Finally, after walking for an hour or so, they reached a clearing in the forest. There were small homes carved into the trees, with vines holding everything together. Flowers sprouted everywhere she looked, in whites, greens, pinks, and yellows. The strangest thing were the walking and talking plants, the Palmons if Saki guessed correctly.
They looked like lily reds, except the stems were bipedal creatures with big bulbous black eyes, and the ends of their hands and feet had claws. Even though they were alien-looking, Saki found them to be quite adorable.
"Palmon!" A Biyomon greeted with a chirrup. "We brought a human!"
Suddenly, all activity within the little village stopped, and several pairs of large eyes turned to look at Saki. She froze under their gaze, and gave them a shy smile. The Biyomons said they were nice, but it didn't hurt to be polite, just in case. "H-Hello. My name is Hirano Saki, it's nice to meet all of you." She threw in a small bow as well, because why not.
The Palmon turned to each other, whispering, and then came up to her in smiling droves. "Welcome to our village!" They greeted her in unison.
"Biyomon," A Palmon addressed one of her bird friends. "Is there a reason you brought a human here?"
"We knew that you guys can help her better than us!" Biyomon responded. "Flame Terminal isn't safe for a human right now, and she isn't fireproof at all. Can you help her?"
"Of course, leave it to us!" Palmon puffed up its chest and turned to the only human. "Here, Saki. You can rest at our great cherry blossom tree. The shade here is the best, especially next to the pond with the lotuses!"
Saki perked up and nodded, following after the small plant-like digimon. It led her to the base of a large tree, larger than any others around. Its branches were filled to the brim with cherry blossom blooms, and several of the falling petals had been gathered on the ground to be used as a seat. In front of it and in the middle of the village was a pond, again, filled with flowers. There were lotuses, water lilies, hyacinths, all kinds of flowers imaginable.
It was beautiful, and the sight of it took her breath away. "This is amazing..." Saki whispered, lowering herself into a pile of cherry blossom petals.
"It's our village's pride and joy!" Palmon grinned. "Legend has it that our ancestor fell asleep here, and the very forest grew these beautiful flowers to keep her company!" It gestured to the clearing of flora where other Palmons were going about their business to begin a feast. "It's said that our ancestor will wake up when the time is right."
"Wow..." Saki breathed out in awe, looking at the centuries old cherry blossom tree. "Is that her right there?" She pointed at a carving in the bark. It featured a six petaled flower with a feminine figure, and strange writing below it.
"That's her!" The Palmon confirmed. "Her name has been lost to time, but the writing underneath her describes her as a being who bloomed in heaven and only wants peace and prosperity for everyone."
Saki smiled softly. "She sounds really nice..." She wished she could be like that.
Some Palmons came up and offered her fresh water as well as some roots for her to eat. It was really simple, but her growling stomach made sure she couldn't refuse and she ended up asking for seconds. The Biyomon stayed for a while, catching up with their fellow rookie level digimons. They made sure to include Saki in their discussions as well, even though she could barely keep up since she didn't know much about their world and their affairs.
It had been such a long time since she could sit down and talk to people for fun, and she almost felt like crying from pure joy. It seemed like her D-Tector was right; this world did mean freedom.
Suddenly, the ground underneath them rumbled faintly, and all the festivities stopped. Everyone turned to look in the direction of Flame Terminal, where the tremors originated from. A Biyomon flew high into the air for a few minutes and gasped. "Everyone! The land connecting the continent and Flame Terminal is back!"
Everyone jumped and shouted in joy. "Hurray!" A Palmon cheered.
"Someone must've defeated Cerberumon!" A Biyomon crowed.
"Cerberumon?" Saki questioned, lost. "Is that a bad digimon?"
"Very bad!" A Biyomon nodded. "He's been terrorizing Flame Terminal for weeks, bullying all of us smaller digimon. Do you remember the gorge we had to fly you over? That was his doing! He was just plain bad news!"
Her eyes widened. A digimon could do that?
"Someone must've come and sent him on his way!" The Biyomon continued with a happy expression. "Now we can have our fire festivals again!"
"Hurray!" Everyone cheered.
Saki frowned to herself. "Who would come to save the Terminal now, after all this time?"
"Maybe it's a legendary warrior!" The Palmon next to her suggested. "The legendary warriors disappeared a long time ago after they brought peace to the lands, but legend has it that they'll come back when the Digital World needs them! Our ancestor was a legendary warrior, too! Though..." It tapped its chin thoughtfully. "There was something about how her true nature was split to other forests..."
Legendary Warriors? They sounded so wonderful, but there was no way they would still be alive now. Then again, if everything was digital, then data could always be recovered, right..?
"Since our home is safe again, we'll be heading back now!" Biyomon informed her. "Are you okay staying here? The Palmons will take care of you!"
Saki smiled and nodded. "I'll be fine here, but I don't want to be a burden!" She held up two determined fists. "I work at a flower shop, so please let me help out with the gardening or something!"
Palmon nodded with a smile. "You don't have to work, only if you want to! You're welcome to stay however long you want!"
Touched by its kindness, Saki knelt down and hugged the plant. "Thank you...You've all been so kind to me," She sniffed. "I'll be sure to repay you all."