Chapter Two: “Heroes and Zeroes”
Cherubimon’s new Warriors stared at Bokomon in shock at the names he’d listed. Chiaki had an arm around Teruo to comfort him over Takuya’s betrayal, and she was hugging him tighter than she intended. Katsuharu hung his head and moaned, “I can’t believe it.”
Koichi managed to snap out of his trance. “You know them?”
“Two,” their leader confessed. “Tommy and J.P. J.P.’s a kid in my class—seventh grade, heavy, not too popular, but good at magic tricks. And Tommy…”
“Katsuharu and I picked on him,” Teppei admitted to everyone’s shock. “He’s a little kid, easy prey even though he’s not much shorter than me. Even shoved him on the Trailmon here as a joke.”
“I can’t believe it,” Teruo replied.
“I’m not much better,” Chiaki added, taking her arm off of Teruo, as if she was too ashamed to try and offer comfort—or seek it either, perhaps. “Zoë’s in my class too. She just moved here from Italy after spending a few years there. She never really talked a lot, and she was such an outsider. Now I wonder if most of that was because she was so used to Italy and was having a hard time adjusting back to Japan. The other girls were mean to her and made it pretty clear that siding with Zoë was siding against them. I didn’t want to lose my place with the other girls, so…”
“Koichi, did you know one of them too?” Neemon asked.
Caught by surprise, Koichi quickly answered, “No.” Knowing that he sounded suspicious, he amended, “Koji’s name sounds familiar, and I think I’ve seen him around, but I don’t really know him.” It wasn’t really a lie; he knew the name and not the person, but it wasn’t as it sounded. Deciding to change the subject, he added, “You didn’t know any of this about each other?”
Teppei snorted. “Yeah. Tell the others that we’re going to be a team but Katsuharu and I bully nine-year-olds? Sure.”
“We were too ashamed,” Chiaki said. With a glance in Teruo’s direction, she added, “Or too shy. We never really talked.”
“I guess we’d better start,” Teruo decided, to everyone’s nods. “So who goes first?”
“How about Koichi?” Chiaki suggested. He looked a bit alarmed. “You’re the new one in our group.”
“Okay,” he reluctantly agreed and started thinking of something safe to tell them. There was no need to bring up a brother he didn’t know and wasn’t even sure was on Ophanimon’s side. “Well, I live in Shinjuku…”
“You too?” Teppei asked suddenly. “That’s where Katsuharu and I are from.”
“Really?” Koichi asked, surprised. This encouraged him, so he continued, “I live there with my mom. My grandma lived nearby, but she died recently.”
The atmosphere went back to gloomy at this comment, and Chiaki could only manage a small “I’m sorry,” while the others nodded.
Koichi managed to shrug, but it took some effort. It had been weeks since Grandma died, and though the pain had lessened, it was still there. “Thanks. She always helped out, since Mom had a stressful job. Sometimes, she helped with the bills when Mom couldn’t quite make the payment, but we can’t complain. We live well enough for us.”
“At least there’s that,” Teppei agreed.
“So you next?” Koichi asked.
“Okay, here goes,” Teppei answered. “Like I said, I’m also from Shinjuku—Katsuharu’s my neighbor in my apartment building, and we go to the same school as Tommy and J.P, and probably Koichi too. Weird how that happens. Anyway, I live with my mom and dad—no siblings, so Katsuharu’s the closest I’ve ever had to a brother. I’ve got a cat too, but Foo Foo Cuddly Poops doesn’t count as a sibling.” They all gave him an odd look. “Not my idea for a name, so thank God.”
“Anyway,” Katsuharu interrupted, trying to change the subject from Teppei’s cat. “I also live with my mom, and two of my older sisters, Kasumi and Kiyoshi. My oldest sister, Kyoko, has a daughter named Rin, and they live in Tokyo.”
“Wait a second,” Koichi cut in. “Katsuharu, Kiyoshi, Kasumi, Kyoko, and Rin?”
“My parents are nuts,” he answered. “That’s why Teppei and I got along so well. What about you, Chiaki?”
“My family life’s just as normal,” she said. “I live in Shibuya, and I’m the middle child of three. My older brother, Isamu, is fourteen, and my younger sister, Haruka, is five. I guess it makes me feel desperate to fit in sometimes, since I’m not the oldest and I’m not the youngest. Teruo?”
“All I can really say is my parents are going to be real worried about me,” he replied soberly. “When I do get home, they probably won’t ever let me out of the house.”
“Why not?” Koichi asked.
Teruo sighed. “My parents didn’t exactly have an easy time having me. They lost a kid before me, an older brother I never knew. We don’t talk about him much, but I know his name was Takehito. His death was an accident, something no one could have prevented. He was playing one day when a car hit him. The car tried to stop, but it hit him anyway. So when my parents had me, they decided to be extra careful.”
“As in?” Katsuharu asked.
“As in I don’t get around very much,” Teruo admitted. “I’m really not allowed to go anywhere by myself, except to school or the library. And even then, I’ve got to call in when I get there. Being here in the Digital World made me get used to all this freedom, and I don’t know if I want to give it up.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Katsuharu agreed. “Back home, I’d never be able to be the leader. I’m just the baby.”
“And I have a place here,” Chiaki added. “I’m part of something, and I don’t have to act like someone I don’t want to be for it.”
“Well, I’m going to get some sleep before we hit the next town,” Katsuharu decided. “When I’m up, we’ll come up with something to do about those Warrior traitors.”
They hit the next town by nightfall. It was somewhere outside the Forest Kingdom, which could have meant anything. They didn’t know whether or not it was safe, but they decided to take the risk. Koichi was the only one still awake, so it was his job to get the others up and carry Bokomon and Neemon, who were out cold.
“Hey,” he whispered to Katsuharu while the others were stretching. “We’re at the town.”
Katsuharu started to get up, winced, and slowly pulled himself to his feet. “Don’t tell me you’ve been up the whole time.”
Koichi shrugged. “Wasn’t that tired.”
“You’ve got more energy than the rest of us, then,” he muttered, limping. “I feel like an old man. Are you ever this stiff after you have to use your Spirit?”
Koichi paused to shift the weight on his back. Neemon nearly woke up, but settled back to sleep, murmuring something about meat-apples. “I’m not really sure,” Koichi confessed. “Usually, I pass out. It feels more like a lack of energy than anything else. But I don’t think I wind up as sore as you do.”
Katsuharu looked at him for a while before sighing, “I don’t know whether to call you lucky or not. Unconscious sounds good right now, but not under the kind of circumstances you’re used to. At least I can control my Spirit.”
They stepped off the Trailmon and looked around. The town—really more of a village—was small, and anyone in it was probably asleep. They couldn’t very well ask for lodging, and there didn’t seem to be any good places to spend the night. There wasn’t even a station—the Trailmon just let them off on the outskirts of town and went on its way. Sleeping on a bench was out of the question.
“Where do we sleep?” Teppei asked, voicing everyone’s thoughts.
“Out in the open is probably a bad idea, with Ophanimon’s Warriors out,” Katsuharu decided. He walked around the trees, placing a hand on each one until he found one with low branches. He placed both hands on its trunk this time and nodded. “This should be good. The limbs are low enough and strong enough to hold us. So long as we sleep with our backs against the trunk for support, I think it’ll be fine.”
“How do you know that?” Teppei asked.
Katsuharu looked puzzled. “I don’t know. I can just feel it from the trees. This one feels safe, like it won’t let us fall.”
“Maybe it’s your Spirit?” Teruo suggested. The others looked at him for an explanation. “Your element is Wood, so maybe you’re more in tune with the trees than we are. Maybe when the rest of us get our Spirits, we’ll have some kind of sympathy too.”
“It might be,” Koichi confessed. “I really don’t know a whole lot about the Spirits, but since they are based on the natural elements, they probably do make you closer to nature. And now that you mention it, I think my night vision is better here than it was in the city.”
“Let’s just get some sleep,” Chiaki decided. “We can figure out what to do about Ophanimon’s Warriors in the morning.”
“Yeah, those dirty traitors,” Teppei muttered.
“We can’t exactly say that for certain,” Chiaki reasoned. “Bokomon said they’re under a spell.”
“They could have fought it off better,” Katsuharu said. “I’d have thought Tommy and J.P. were stronger than that.”
“Maybe they couldn’t,” Teruo argued. “What if the spell was just that strong? I mean, Ophanimon’s not a Celestial Digimon for nothing…”
“Teruo, your hero’s not a hero anymore,” Katsuharu protested. “He chased down Bokomon and Neemon all across the Digital World. What’s going to stop him from coming after you?”
“And maybe he wasn’t as great as you think,” Teppei added.
“You’re wrong!” Teruo shouted, waking the Digimon on Koichi’s back. “Ophanimon’s playing on their weaknesses! That’s why they’re under her spell!”
“And what weaknesses does the perfect Takuya Kanbara have?” Teppei asked bitterly. “From the way you describe him, he’s a god incarnate.”
“I don’t know!” Teruo yelled in frustration. “I just don’t know. But I know he’s not how you think. He’s not.”
And with that, he ran off. Katsuharu called out for him, but Teruo kept running. No one could ever remember seeing him this upset before. Chiaki started after him, but Koichi called back, “Don’t.” She looked back at him in confusion. “I think he needs to be alone now. I can keep an eye out in case he gets in trouble.”
“All right,” she agreed reluctantly.
“You sure?” Katsuharu checked. “You haven’t slept at all, and I’m responsible for everyone.”
“I’ll be fine,” Koichi assured. “I told you I wasn’t tired.”
Katsuharu carefully shrugged and headed over to the tree. “All right then. Wake me up if something’s wrong.”
The others clambered for the lower branches, but Koichi and Katsuharu took the higher ones—Koichi because it was easier to see where Teruo was running, and Katsuharu because he felt safe there. Once he was sure that Koichi was fine standing watch, Katsuharu put his head against the tree trunk. He had one last thing to say before going to sleep:
“Teppei, you really should have quit while you were ahead.”
There was no answer, but it didn’t matter. Katsuharu was out like a light.
Teruo finally came to a stop in the center of a clearing. He sat down on a tree stump and started poking at the dirt with a stick. Teppei couldn’t be right about Takuya. He’d never met him—he had no right to assume things like this.
Takehito Kagami had only been four when he died, and two years later, Teruo was born. Unfortunately, there were complications with his birth that made it impossible for his mother to have any more children. To compensate, Teruo’s parents were fairly overprotective. If they could, they would have kept him from playing soccer, but his doctor had suggested playing a sport would be good for his health. Teruo had loved watching the other kids at school play soccer, so he asked if he could join that. But loving a sport didn’t guarantee he would be any good at it; he was probably the worst player on the team. He’d originally tried out as a goalie because he could catch a ball fairly well. But in practice, nearly everything got past him, so they switched him to defense. He was still bad at that, but at least he didn’t guarantee a team loss every time he was on the field.
Takuya had always been nice to him, even if he was the single worst player in Jiyuugaoka. In many ways, he’d really been Teruo’s first friend and therefore his hero. He wasn’t just good at soccer, but he was a good person too—Teruo didn’t see that in the other kids too much. And once, when he’d gotten hurt, Takuya had come to his rescue.
It had been just a hurt ankle—nothing too bad; even the coach said he’d be fine the next day, but for Teruo, it was the end of the world. Takuya came over to assure him everything was okay, but Teruo explained his side of the story:
“I made a deal with my parents that I could stay in soccer if I didn’t get hurt. They’re going to go ballistic.”
Takuya had thought about it for a minute before suggesting, “Well, why don’t you ask them if you can sleep over at my house? We’ll just tell my parents it was closer than going back to your house, and your parents weren’t home to pick you up. That way, you can keep that a secret and stay on the team.”
The plan was so simple that it was brilliant. Everything worked out, and Teruo felt like he’d made a friend for the first time. Someone who would even help Teruo limp to his own house just to help keep the horrible player on the team could not be capable of destroying the Digital World. This spell Ophanimon had over him had to have been powerful.
Let’s see, he thought. When this happens in books and movies, the spell is usually tied to something, and it can be broken by destroying that thing. Maybe it’s tied to the Spirits? “No,” he rejected aloud. “That’d be too easy. If they lose bad enough just once, they’d break free. It’s got to be something else.” He stared up at the three moons. “Or destroying the spell-caster could work. Ophanimon’s supposed to be an angel, and I don’t remember anything about angels having magic—they’re supposed to have holy powers instead.She probably has someone under her control who cast the spell.”
“Or maybe real life isn’t like a fantasy novel,” suggested a new voice. Teruo gripped the stick tightly and jumped off the stump. Takuya was coming from another part of the forest. He was grinning with a smugness that didn’t come naturally to him—it looked wrong on his face.
“You know?” Takuya asked. “I really need to thank your friend for killing that Angemon. He saved me the trouble of having to do it myself.”
Villain’s exposition, Teruo recognized. Block it out and look for an escape.
“He was supposed to wait until the rest of us could make it to Steel Town so we could take all of Cherubimon’s Warriors out in one blow, and claim the book and Spirits for ourselves,” Takuya explained. “But instead, he screwed it up and jumped the gun. Lady Ophanimon wasn’t happy and sent me to clean up the mess.”
Teruo wasn’t sure if Takuya had been this much of a talker before being put under a spell. It was making things fairly simple. He thought he saw an escape to his left and ran for it. But with faster-than-human reflexes, Takuya managed to block him.
“Your friend really saved me some time, since I have to find the Spirit here,” he informed. “Following you made it easier, since I could tell you felt its call.”
Teruo was starting to run out of options. He could pretend to go along with Takuya to find the Spirit, but chances were that Takuya knew him well enough to figure out he was lying. He wasn’t a fast runner, so that was out of the question. Even managing to get away long enough to call for help was useless—he was too far away for his voice to carry, and his phone hadn’t worked since he came to the Digital World. He did have one last ace in the hole, though: if there was a chance he could get Koichi’s attention, maybe he’d be able to help. He had, of course, admitted his night vision was enhanced from his Spirit.
“You’re going to have to catch me first!” he declared, kicking Takuya in the shin and running. Caught off-guard by this move, he paused long enough to give Teruo the chance to head for the forest. “You’re just asking for it, aren’t you?” he growled, pulling out a black and red D-tector. “Execute Spirit Evolution!”
Teruo didn’t turn around as he heard the name “Agunimon” shouted behind him. He just waited until he heard the words “Pyro Punch!” and saw his shadow against the trees ahead of him. Once he did, he dropped to the ground. The flames hit the trees, which was a mixed blessing. True, it put the forest in danger of burning, but the sudden firelight would alert Koichi to something wrong.
“You’ve gotten clever,” Agunimon noticed as Teruo rolled over and got to his feet. Now he could see Takuya’s Digimon form: blond-haired and covered in red armor. It was no wonder he was called a Legendary Warrior—he certainly looked the part.
He could kill me, he realized.
“You really think you can escape me, Teruo?” Agunimon asked, hurling another burst of flames. Teruo dove out of the way. “You’re the worst athlete I’ve ever seen. You can’t do a single thing right. You’re nothing more than a loser.”
Don’t listen to his words, Teruo desperately told himself, jumping away from another flame attack. It isn’t Takuya. It’s Ophanimon using Takuya. It’s not the same.
“You read a lot of fiction, Teruo, so you know that the losers never master their destinies. They follow the same path mindlessly, only to meet their own end. They never even make it past the middle of the book.”
“Funny, ‘cause that sounds a lot like your story,” Arbormon cut in, joining the battle. Following closely behind him were Koichi, Chiaki, Teppei, Bokomon, Neemon, and a good portion of the Digimon village. They were all working to put out the fires while Arbormon took care of the fighting.
“I saw the fire,” Koichi said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Teruo lied. “But Katsuharu isn’t. Agunimon’s his opposing element; he doesn’t stand a chance!”
“We’ll just have to let Arbormon stall him while we finish putting out the fire,” Bokomon decided. “Then we can all escape.”
“No,” Teruo argued. “Takuya said there’s another Spirit here, and it was calling me.”
“He’s just lying,” Teppei determined. Then, remembering that his arguing with Teruo had caused this mess in the first place, he carefully added, “He’s probably just saying that to make you run headfirst into an ambush.”
Teruo closed his eyes and shook his head. “No, there’s definitely something out there. I’m not sure what, though.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. There was still static on the screen, but a symbol was beginning to make its way through. He had a feeling that it would be more visible the closer he got to whatever was pulling him.
That settled it. He ran off once again, this time with the others behind him. Holding his phone out to guide his way, he cut through the leaves and bushes in search of his Spirit. He wasn’t sure how far he’d gone before he came across a round mirror, hanging off of a tree branch as if it had been placed there.
The others skidded to a halt behind him, and Bokomon pulled out his book, muttering, “I know I’ve seen that mirror somewhere before.”
“It’s Mercurymon’s,” Koichi explained, surprised. “But how it got here, I don’t know…”
Mercurymon was the Warrior of Steel—Koichi had mentioned it on the ride. Teruo didn’t know how he knew, but he could tell that the mirror was also a shield of steel.
Steel was so underestimated, its importance forgotten in favor of the flashier metals of silver and gold. It bent easily and it could rust, but it was still a fine metal. It created the sword and armor of the knight heading off into battle and held up buildings—offering a weapon, defense, and support. It was flexible and easy to work with.
Teruo looked down at his phone. A symbol much like the character for steel was on the screen before the whole phone changed shape into a green and silver D-tector. He looked back up at the mirror. Before, he’d seen his reflection, along with those of the others. But something was different now. Now it was as if he could see their true reflections. Teppei was a boy who couldn’t always foresee the consequences of his actions, and those were certainly returning to cause him trouble. Chiaki was trying to make up for past sins by standing up for people she wouldn’t have in the past. Koichi, surrounded by his inner darkness, was searching for something and afraid of what he might find. And Teruo?
Teruo saw a figure in green and silver armor, like mirrors, standing in his place.
Understanding what this meant, he held his D-tector up to the mirror, and the Spirit flew out of it, causing the whole mirror to disappear. Fractal Code formed around his hand, and he scanned it, yelling with all his heart, “Execute Spirit Evolution!”
The evolution felt just like how he imagined the transformation sequences of many different heroes to feel. Energy poured into his body as the armor covered him. His sight felt like he was looking through one-way glass, but it wasn’t as restrictive as he thought it might be. A mirror-shield formed on each arm, catching the light of the Fractal Code globe around him. The mirror on his right side absorbed the Code, allowing him to retain the extra power. His voice echoed as he announced his name:
He looked down at the others, a bit surprised to be so tall all of a sudden, and tried to offer a grin. “I’m going to help Katsuharu,” he decided. “You guys help put out the fire.”
“Good luck,” Teppei wished. In such a crisis, it was the only way he could apologize.
“Thanks,” Mercurymon answered. Using the power he’d stored from his evolution, he snapped his fingers and disappeared, traveling through a doorway of mirrors to find his way to the battle. He reappeared just in time to hold a shield in front of a singed Arbormon to block a flaming tornado kick.
“Teruo?” Arbormon guessed.
“Yep,” he replied. “Thought you might need a hand.”
“Great,” he answered, getting back to his feet. “Let’s get him.”
“Two on one, eh?” Agunimon noticed. “Looks like a couple of losers would need that strategy.”
“I don’t know, Teruo,” Arbormon commented. “I only see one loser right in front of us, don’t you agree?”
“Katsuharu, let me handle this,” he requested.
“All right then,” Arbormon agreed after a pause, devolving. “I’m going to help the others!”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Agunimon asked. “How many times do I have to tell you that this isn’t one of your stupid novels! Do you think you’re some kind of knight standing up to me like that? The hero can’t always prevail!”
Mercurymon sighed, “Takuya, I really don’t care what you have to say anymore,” before holding up his shields and preparing to fight.
With a shout of “Pyro Tornado!” Agunimon came at him in a fiery tornado. Remembering that the flames only hid the kick within, Mercurymon held up his left shield to block. Agunimon hit the mirror and felt his attack rebound, throwing him to the ground with a sore foot.
“That shield can’t protect you from everything,” he threatened, bringing his fists together and generating flames. “Pyro Punch!”
“Dark Reflection!” Mercurymon cried, holding up his right shield. The fire harmlessly entered it, and as Agunimon stared in shock, the left shield sent the attack right back at the exact same strength it had hit the first shield.
Over and over, the cycle repeated. Agunimon would attack and Mercurymon would either block or reflect. Mercurymon remained on the defense the whole time, only stepping back occasionally to maintain his footing. He hardly exerted himself, leaving all of that to Agunimon. Finally, Agunimon collapsed to his hands and knees in exhaustion and involuntarily devolved. Glaring up at Mercurymon and trying to catch his breath, he growled, “So why don’t you just finish me then? Or are you too much of a loser to do it?”
“No, Takuya,” he answered. “I’m not a loser; I’m just not you.”
“You’re going to regret letting me live,” Takuya reminded him. “Once I get my Beast Spirit, you’re the first one I’m coming after.”
“Then I’ll be ready to use my shields,” Mercurymon replied. “I’m going to save you.”
“Think you’re the hero now?” Takuya asked, but Mercurymon didn’t answer. Finally, he just picked himself up and left.
Once he was certain Takuya was gone, Mercurymon devolved and walked back to the others—all of whom looked like they were barely holding themselves back from tackling him in hugs. Teruo gave them a weary smile and said, “I’m okay. Only bruises and burns I got were from before I got my Spirit.”
“How did you defeat Agunimon?” Bokomon asked. “We were all afraid when you ran off and Katsuharu came back alone.”
“Yeah, Takuya’s strong,” Neemon agreed. “How’d you do it?”
“I really didn’t do much of anything,” Teruo protested. “I just stood my ground and kept blocking and reflecting his attacks. Eventually, Takuya ran out of energy.”
“I’ve never heard of such a strategy before!” Bokomon marveled.
“To be honest, neither have I,” he admitted. “I kind of pulled things from soccer. I tried out for goalie, and I’m always on defense. Takuya’s mostly a midfielder.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about arguing with you earlier,” Teppei apologized. “If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t have run off and gotten in so much trouble to begin with.”
“Same here,” Katsuharu added. “I’m supposed to be the leader here, and I’m not doing such a good job of it.”
“It’s okay,” Teruo reassured. “We just should get moving soon. Since Takuya knows we’re here, he’s going to let the others know. Plus they’re still after their Beast Spirits.”
“We’ll head out in the morning,” Katsuharu decided, looking around at everyone. “Besides, you and I need to sleep. Same goes for you, Koichi—no more guard duty.”
The grateful Digimon in the village offered them room for the rest of the night. Katsuharu and Teppei roomed in one house, Teruo and Koichi in another, and Chiaki in the last. As he lay on the admittedly small bed, Teruo commented, “I hope Katsuharu and Teppei aren’t as hard on Ophanimon’s Warriors anymore. From what I saw of Takuya, they definitely have to be under a spell.”
“Yeah,” Koichi murmured.
“Something wrong?” Teruo asked, leaning on one arm.
“You really think there might be a way to save them?” he asked. “Or is it just optimism?”
“I really do think that,” he affirmed. “I think Ophanimon’s got someone that’s controlling them—I doubt she has magic herself, even though she’s supposed to be so powerful. It won’t be easy, but if we can find who or what’s holding the spell in place, we can break that control.”
“Not as easy as it sounds,” Koichi muttered.
Teruo shrugged. “You want to save that guy, Koji, right?”
A little startled, Koichi answered, “Yeah. The others too, of course, but…”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It hits harder when it’s someone you’re familiar with. And I think it’s cool that you want to save someone you hardly know. Kind of like a classical hero.”
“Yeah,” Koichi answered, sounding hesitant. Teruo was about to call him on it when he said, “Anyway, now I’m starting to feel tired. Night.”
“Night,” Teruo replied, slightly confused. He wasn’t sure what Koichi was trying to hide. For a moment, it almost hit him, almost, but he was too tired to think about it any further and let it go.
For some odd reason, Teppei is asking for Sokka references: the name of his cat is the same name as a sabertooth mooselion cub Sokka finds in an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Admittedly, part of the mirror scene was inspired by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Takuya’s whole “loser” spiel was inspired by Neji and Sasuke of Naruto, and the chapter title comes from the song “Zero to Hero” from Disney’s Hercules.