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Yang-Yin

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            The message went out quickly, all over the human world. Within a matter of minutes, children received a text message asking them to follow their destiny to Shibuya Station. The Digital World was in danger, and now the only ones who could save it were the Legendary Warriors. But the Warriors had been destroyed long ago, leaving behind their shells of soul-bonded armor, their Spirits. It was theorized that Digimon could take up the Spirits and regain the Warriors’ lost powers, but all experiments had failed. Some had gotten power-hungry and caused far too much trouble. Others just went mad. So a gamble had to be taken: Human children were known to possess pure hearts, and perhaps that would be the key to keeping them from being thoroughly corrupted by the Spirits. Maybe humans were the only ones who could save the Digimon world.

            This wasn’t why they were being summoned, though. Seraphimon and Ophanimon, two of the Celestial Digimon who ruled over the Digital World, had suddenly turned traitor and now wanted to resurrect the Warriors to destroy the world. Cherubimon, the last of their trio to continue protecting the world, watched the events unfold in the Human World, wincing over injuries suffered in battle against Seraphimon. It had taken a great deal to seal him in crystal, and he knew he would stand no chance against Ophanimon in this condition.

            If she manages to find those children, the Digital World is done for, he realized.

            Suddenly, something happened that he hadn’t anticipated in the least. A boy racing downstairs to meet the elevator lost his footing on one of the steps and smashed his skull against the floor. People rushed around him as he started losing consciousness, murmuring a name before closing his eyes:

            “Koji…”

            Cherubimon sat up quickly, ignoring the pain in his side, and got to work. He hated what he was about to do. There was a chance the boy would live without his interference but a much lesser chance that he’d live with it. But if the Digital World was to survive, this was necessary. From a sealed room, he took out the Spirit of Darkness and started bonding it to the boy.

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter One: “Crisis”

            Koichi Kimura stood atop the tower at the Rose Morning Star. It was the highest point in the Continent of Darkness, giving him full view of the area. He could see the peaceful forest, protected from evil by the superstitions surrounding the dark continent. Between it and the wastelands surrounding the tower was a crumbling old castle, where it was said that the Legendary Warriors first fought the tyrant Lucemon. He stared up at the three moons of the Digital World. As always, they were full, two shining brightly in yellow and blue through the red mist of the Rose Morning Star. The third’s red light was masked by the mist, leaving the moon as just a disc in the sky. It had been several weeks since he’d come to this world, waking from a nightmare to find himself in a room filled with bright light. Cherubimon had called him here when Ophanimon threatened the world, giving him the Spirit of Darkness to use in only the most extreme of emergencies. But since then, Koichi had been confined to the Continent of Darkness, and even then, it was mostly the tower. Everyday, he heard reports of Ophanimon’s forces destroying more and more of the Digital World, and he hated the helpless feeling he had.

            He climbed back inside the tower. Oryxmon, Cherubimon’s servant, had just burst in. Oryxmon was always lecturing him about going on the roof, worried that he’d fall. Koichi had the grace to look embarrassed.

            “Why do you insist on going up there?” Oryxmon asked.

            “I don’t know,” he confessed. “I just like the view. It gives me a chance to think.”

            “Think later,” Oryxmon advised. “Come, Lord Cherubimon needs you.”

            They climbed down the many stairs of the tower before finally reaching Cherubimon’s chambers. The whole time, Koichi wondered what he was needed for; Cherubimon hardly ever called for him. In the time he’d been there, he’d only seen the Celestial Digimon three or four times.

            “You called for me?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Cherubimon answered. “We have a problem. I’d prefer that you stay in the safety of this continent, but you’re the only one who can handle this.”

            “What is it?”

            “Four children still remain from Ophanimon’s summons,” he explained.

            “But I thought the Trailmon took everyone back to the human world when she found her Warriors,” Koichi said.

            “So did I,” Cherubimon confessed. “Even so, I have heard of four children in Steel Town. I believe they may be the ones that can wield the Spirits of Wood, Earth, Steel, and Water.”

            “So you want me to recruit them?” Koichi guessed.

            “No. I want you to send them home. They may take it better from a human like themselves.”

            “But then, how do I explain that I can’t go home?” he asked. “I’m still not sure how I got here and why I can’t seem to leave.”

            That made Cherubimon pause. Koichi didn’t know why, but he could guilt-trip him into almost anything. Finally, the Celestial Digimon said, “If the children want to fight and are able to, I can’t stop them. But if the chance comes when they need to escape, they must.”

            “All right,” Koichi agreed.

            “But do not use your Spirit. You know what happened the last time.”

            Koichi looked down in shame. “But I have the Spirit of Wood still—maybe I could evolve with that?”

            “No,” Cherubimon answered. “You are already bonded to one Spirit, and a highly unstable one at that. Attempting to bond with another would be foolish. Oryxmon will accompany you in case you run into trouble.”

            “Do you anticipate trouble, my lord?” Oryxmon asked.

            “I have to assume that Ophanimon knows of these children too and has someone spying on them,” he replied. “The fact that they’re still alive implies that she might be trying to get them on her side and steal my Spirits. If she realizes that she can’t, her spy will kill them.”

            “We’ll head there as fast as we can,” Koichi promised.

            ~~~

            It was just an ordinary day in Steel Town. A Saggitarimon tried some highway robbery on travelers, but they put a stop to it before breakfast. They went to one of the gardens, picked some tomatoes, and settled down to relax.

            It was, Katsuharu Kobayashi decided, an incredibly boring day in Steel Town.

            “This has got to be the dullest day ever,” muttered Teppei Yamaguchi. Katsuharu grinned at his partner-in-crime’s comment. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who thought so.

            “You can say that again.” He stood up and stretched. “Come on. Might as well see what Chiaki and Teruo are up to.” But as he walked out of the building they’d claimed as refuge, he saw their guardian, Angemon, hovering nearby. “Hey, Angemon, what’s up?”

            “Chiaki and Teruo found a couple of Digimon wandering around near the terminal,” he answered.

            “Guess we should check it out,” Teppei decided.

            “I’ll keep watch in case anything attacks,” Angemon volunteered.

            “Okay,” Katsuharu said, shrugging and walking off. It was great that Angemon was protecting them, but he was far too serious for his own good. Besides, for the most part, Katsuharu had things covered.

            Back home in the human world, he wouldn’t have been doing things like this; protecting younger kids and leading them around. He and Teppei were usually the ones who would pick on weaker kids. Teruo Kagami was a perfect example of who they’d tend to target: shier, quieter kids who weren’t good at standing up for themselves. Chiaki Arakawa, however, was someone they might have considered a female rival. She was sweet and kind, but she had one heck of a temper and didn’t hesitate to stand up for Teruo when Teppei first picked on him when they got there. Teruo had gone red right then and there and thanked her for her help. After that, they’d become an inseparable quartet. Katsuharu decided that if they were going to be staying in the Digital World, he would have to be the one responsible for their wellbeing.

            “Over here!” Teruo called, waving as they arrived at the terminal. Katsuharu waved back. It had taken a little while, but they’d gotten Teruo to be a little more social. He adapted to Digital World scenarios easier than the others; he was a big fan of fantasy novels, so he saw it as an adventure. He took to this world like the proverbial fish to water, grinning infectiously at every new experience.

            “Who’d you find?” Katsuharu asked. Chiaki pointed out two Digimon who were ravenously eating tomatoes. One looked kind of like a yellow rabbit in red stockings, while the other was some kind of white creature in a pink waistband.

            “They say their names are Neemon and Bokomon,” she explained. “They’ve been running for a while, scared out of their minds.”

            “Did they say why?” Katsuharu asked.

            Chiaki shook her head. “They haven’t had a chance, and we didn’t press. We figured the best thing to do was to just give them some food and water and let them rest for a while.”

            Teppei raised an eyebrow. “We don’t usually get that many outsiders, and there’s nothing going on nearby that should scare the hell out of them like this.”

            “Like I said, they’ve been at this for a while now,” Chiaki insisted. “I don’t have any idea what’s going on.”

            “Well,” Teruo started, and everyone looked his way. “I was listening to some of the Digimon in town. They mentioned something about a war. Do you think maybe that might be the reason?”

            Katsuharu shrugged. He too had heard the rumors of a war that had broken out all over the Digital World, but Steel Town hadn’t seen any sign of trouble yet, minus the usual suspects. And as Teppei said, they hardly got anyone new in town. Those who usually came by were from nearby towns. Still, Bokomon and Neemon definitely hadn’t come from anywhere nearby, and they were scared of something, so war could certainly be a possibility.

            “I’ll talk to them,” Chiaki said. “Maybe I can find something out.”

            “Yeah, good plan,” Katsuharu agreed.

            The Digimon had nearly emptied the basket of tomatoes Chiaki and Teruo had given them. They looked a bit calmer now, so she decided to take her chances with conversation.

            “Are you okay?” she checked. “We can get you some more food if you’re still hungry.”

            “No, we’re fine,” Bokomon answered, taking a large green book out from under his pink belt. He was about to open it before giving it up as a lost cause and tucking it away again. “Thank you for the hospitality.”

            “And the food!” Neemon piped in. “We haven’t eaten that good in days!”

            “Well, there’s plenty more where that came from,” Chiaki assured with a smile. Then with careful control, she shifted to a concerned expression—it took a great deal to try and appear convincing without arousing suspicion. “But are you okay? You said you were running for so long…”

            “We plan to rest here for some time before setting off again,” Bokomon replied. “We were told that Steel Town was far out of the way for most of the fighting.”

            So it was the war, the children realized. The boys came closer as Chiaki asked, “Where do you plan to go? Maybe we can help.”

            Bokomon looked down sadly. “We don’t know. We just keep fleeing from one refuge to another.”

            “Well, there’s nothing to worry about here,” Teppei insisted. “Steel Town is just one dull span of city, and no one bothers with it. And in any case, we’ve got Angemon for when there’s any trouble. It’s perfectly safe.”

            “Nowhere’s safe from the Warriors,” Neemon lamented.

            “I’m afraid so, Neemon,” Bokomon agreed sadly. “As long as they’re under Ophanimon’s control, the Digital World is done for.”

            “Wait a second, what?” Katsuharu interrupted. “Who’s under whose control? And why is the Digital World done for?”

            “The Legendary Warriors,” Bokomon explained. “They were once our friends, before Ophanimon cast a spell on them or something. They were good kids—determined to save a world they didn’t belong to. They’d never do something like this.”

            “Maybe you just didn’t know them well enough,” Teppei muttered. Chiaki gave him a glare. “What?”

            “Anyway,” Katsuharu interrupted, “there’s no chance those Legendary Warriors caught up with you, if you’ve been running this long without a sign of them. And Angemon can take care of them no problem if they show.” He looked the Digimon over. They were thoroughly exhausted, probably running only on fear. Anyone who would chase down two small Digimon this long, literally scaring them half to death, didn’t win any sympathy points in his book.

            He ignored the nagging voice in his head that reminded him he was once the same.

            “That’s very kind of you, but I’m afraid your friend might not be a match for them,” Bokomon warned. “There are five Warriors, using Ophanimon and Seraphimon’s Spirits of Flame, Light, Thunder, Wind, and Ice. Now they’re looking for their Beast Spirits. With that much power, they could be unstoppable.”

            “Why come after you?” Teppei questioned. “No offense, but neither of you seems to be much for them to worry about.”

            “It’s because of the book,” Neemon answered.

            “You mean that book you pulled out before?” Chiaki asked.

            Bokomon reached inside his belt once again and pulled out the green tome. “This book has information on the history of the Digital World. I was in the process of adding entries for the Legendary Warriors when I found a hidden page on the Beast Spirits.”

            “So they probably want to keep information on them out of anyone else’s hands and find whatever other secrets the book has,” Katsuharu mused.

            “Bokomon, can I see it?” Teruo asked. Chiaki giggled, making him flush in embarrassment. “Sorry. I don’t mean to sound rude…”

            “You won’t be able to understand any of it,” Bokomon replied. He was about to reach for the last tomato in the basket, but Neemon got to it first. He glared at his companion before putting the book back in his belt. “It’s not in a language you’ll understand. Takuya didn’t every time he tried to sneak a peek.”

            “He got a headache trying!” Neemon chirped, finishing off the tomato.

            “Wait, Takuya?” Teruo said. “That wouldn’t happen to be Takuya Kanbara, would it?”

            “I believe so,” Bokomon answered. “I think that’s what he said his whole name was.”

            “Wow,” Teruo declared, grinning. “I didn’t know Takuya was here. This is great!”

            “Wait a second, who’s Takuya?” Katsuharu asked.

            Teruo was about to answer, but a Trailmon started to enter the terminal and the noise cut him off. Everyone froze, except for Bokomon and Neemon, who started panicking. Had the Legendary Warriors tracked them down?

            “Oh no, Neemon! They’ve found us!”

            “They’re going to scan us for sure!”

            The Trailmon came to a halt with a hiss of steam. The compartment doors opened to let off a boy and a goat-like Digimon. Bokomon and Neemon started quaking in terror as the boy walked closer. Unconsciously, the kids started to move in closer, as if to protect their new friends. But the boy looked too kind and, well—there was no way to avoid saying it—clueless to be evil; he and his Digimon companion looked at each other in absolute confusion over the reactions they got.

            “Are you the children who have been protecting this town?” the Digimon asked.

            “So what if we are?” Katsuharu challenged.

            The boy sighed in relief. “That’s good. I was afraid Ophanimon’s Warriors might have gotten here before we did.”

            Teppei picked up on his comment before anyone else did. “Wait a second, you’re not one of those Legendary Warriors?”

            “Not really,” the boy answered.

            Bokomon stopped flailing long enough to get a good look at him. He sighed in relief. “False alarm, Neemon. They just look alike.”

            “Whew,” Neemon sighed. “That’s a relief!”

            Seeing the persistent confused look on the boy’s face, Katsuharu explained, “These two were chased down by the Legendary Warriors. Because of that, we’re not exactly sympathizing with anyone on Ophanimon’s side.”

            “That’s good news for us,” the Digimon said. “My name is Oryxmon, and this is Koichi. Lord Cherubimon sent us to be sure Ophanimon hadn’t attacked you.”

            “Well, as you can see, we’re all fine,” Teppei answered rudely. “So you can take that to your Lord Whoever…”

            “Wait a minute there,” Bokomon interrupted. “Cherubimon is the last of the three Celestial Digimon who still wants to protect the world.”

            “Then what’s he doing with a kid who might be a Legendary Warrior on his side?” Teppei demanded.

            “I’m not a Legendary Warrior, not really,” Koichi insisted. “I do have a Spirit, but it’s too dangerous for me to use. But Cherubimon thinks that you four might be able to use the last four Spirits that aren’t in anyone else’s hands.”

            Katsuharu wasn’t in a mood to cooperate with anyone today. Someone who was supposedly a hero was trying to recruit kids to fight for him? And he’d apparently already brainwashed someone else into it.

            “Sorry,” Katsuharu said, not feeling it at all and his tone showed it. “We’re not exactly willing to risk our lives for something like this. All that matters to me is protecting my friends and keeping them out of trouble.” Koichi raised his hands in defense as Katsuharu clenched his fists.

            “We’re not asking that,” Koichi argued.

            “You don’t have to fight,” Oryxmon reasoned. “We just need to find the last three Spirits before Ophanimon does. If we can and if it’s necessary, we’ll destroy them. Ophanimon cannot have ten Legendary Warriors at her disposal.”

            “And if she does?” Chiaki challenged, just as argumentative as Katsuharu.

            “You know it won’t be good,” Koichi replied. Bokomon and Neemon nodded, which started to convince the children. “Please. You have to get out of here. It’s not safe. If Ophanimon finds you…”

            “We’ve got plenty of protection,” Katsuharu affirmed. “We don’t need your help.”

            “But…” Koichi protested.

            “We believe Ophanimon may already know you’re still here,” Oryxmon warned. “She may have someone spying on you at this very moment.”

            “And so she does,” answered Angemon, hovering to the kids’ right and looking at them with killing intent. The four children stared at him in horror as Bokomon and Neemon hugged each other tightly. “Lady Ophanimon told me to be patient and the book and the Spirits would come to me. But this is even better—the book and the last five Legendary Warriors.”

            He drew back his fist, and with a shout of “Hand of Fate,” released a golden energy beam toward the children. In a split-second, Oryxmon jumped in its path, shielding the others from most of the impact. Even so, all five children and their Digimon companions were thrown across the platform. Koichi was the first to recover, only to see the disappearing Fractal Code of his friend and guardian.

            “Everyone, into the Trailmon!” he ordered.

            No one hesitated. Once everyone was inside, the Trailmon took off, but Angemon wouldn’t relent. Attacks rocked the train, throwing all the occupants everywhere. From the floor, Chiaki asked, “Why?”

            “I can’t believe we trusted him,” Katsuharu muttered. “All this time, he was waiting to kill us.”

            Teppei looked out the window and saw Angemon come toward them. He ducked as the homicidal angel blasted an attack through the window. “Can’t you go any faster?” he demanded of the Trailmon.

            Koichi was still shaking with the horror of Oryxmon’s death, but he got to his feet and clutched his D-tector. “I’m not letting him die for nothing,” he decided.

            “What are you doing?” Katsuharu asked. “You said using that thing would be too dangerous.”

            “I have one other Spirit, the Spirit of Wood,” he confessed. “I had to take it when its last bearer went insane. I hardly kept my own head after that.” He couldn’t forget having to track down Arbormon all across the Continent of Darkness and beyond only to find the chaos he’d wrought. He had had a hard time remaining sane during the fight, and he’d wound up killing Arbormon to get the Spirit back. Cherubimon forced him to devolve, making him promise never to do it again.

            “Will it work?” Teruo asked cautiously.

            “I don’t know,” Koichi admitted. “But I have to try.” He formed a ring of Fractal Code around his hand and brought up the Spirit of Wood. “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            The Spirit did not want to cooperate with him. A bright light flashed inside the train, and Koichi screamed in agony as it felt like his body and mind were being torn apart by the stress. It forced him to drop his D-tector, and the Spirit ejected itself from it. Chiaki and Teruo caught Koichi as he fell backwards, nearly passing out. The Spirit, however, stayed in place—hovering before Katsuharu.

            “What the…” he started, but a vibrating sensation and a flashing light from his pocket stopped him. He reached in for his long-forgotten cellular phone and stared at it as it beeped and flashed. Before his eyes, it glowed and changed shape into a D-tector much like Koichi’s, only in a tan and red scheme. Looking back up at the Spirit, he held out his new digivice and watched it enter.

            Wood—it hardly sounded tough. Wood splintered and broke under pressure and burned quickly in fire. But then, wood was used for support in housing. Trees provided a safe haven for all sorts of creatures. It was a good element for someone who wanted to protect people.

            In his mind’s eye, a strange-looking Digimon walked toward him and then passed right through him. Suddenly, he knew exactly what to do. A ring of Fractal Code formed around his hand, and he scanned it into his digivice.

            “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            The power of the evolution was unexpected. It didn’t hurt, but it certainly caught him off-guard. The sheer amount of energy tore his clothes away from his body and froze him in place as wooden armor was placed over his body. When it was finished, he could feel the difference. He was stronger, faster, and had more abilities than he ever could have dreamed. He was a Digimon now, and yet he still could feel himself as a human.

            He saw that his new body was surrounded by a globe of Fractal Code. He swiped his arm across it, dissipating it. His new name came to him at once:

            “Arbormon!”

            His friends stared at him in shock and—in the case of Koichi, Bokomon, and Neemon—caution. Arbormon looked at them, knowing his armor didn’t allow for any facial expressions, and told them, “I’m still me. Don’t worry.” His voice was rougher, which was a bit startling, but it was still his. Reassured, Koichi nodded. With his blessing given, Arbormon leapt out of the window and headed off into his first battle.

            He jumped onto the roof, where he got a good view of Angemon attacking. The angel sneered upon seeing him, recognizing the human underneath the armor.

            “Well, looks like you’ve found a new tool for protection,” he observed.

            “Guess I have,” Arbormon answered, still trying to get used to the sound of his new voice. “But it’s not to protect myself—it’s to protect my friends.”

            “How touching,” Angemon replied.

            He aimed an energy blast at Arbormon, who leapt into the air to avoid it. Spinning around in the air, Arbormon tried his Roundhouse Punt. His appendages detached from his body and threatened to strike his opponent with roundhouse-style punches and kicks. Angemon held up his staff to block it, but Arbormon’s limbs were still connected to him by cables. One quick jerk in the opposite direction yanked the staff away and gave Arbormon room to attack again. This time, it connected, striking Angemon in the side. He drew back, clutching his wound.

            The battle continued, growing more vicious as time went on. The Katsuharu within Arbormon felt tears burning his eyes, though he refused to let them fall. Angemon had betrayed him, playing the part of friend for so long. No matter what happened, he was not going to let Angemon win.

            Suddenly, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Dreading to find what he thought it was, he quickly glanced in that direction while sending off another attack toward Angemon. Teppei and the others were standing on the sidelines, watching the battle.

            Oh no, he inwardly groaned. “Guys, what are you doing? Get out of here!”

            Unfortunately, the shout only alerted Angemon to their presence. He blasted Arbormon out of the way, throwing him to the ground. As he picked himself up, he saw Angemon flying at the others. Desperation filled his mind—he couldn’t let Angemon kill them! The panic and fear nearly crippled him, but instinct took over. His breastplate opened to reveal a missile, which he fired right into Angemon’s back. The not-so-angelic Digimon recoiled and went limp before a ring of Fractal Code finally appeared around him. Arbormon took out his D-tector.

            You lied to us, pretending to protect us when you were really spying for Ophanimon, he thought. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive that. Aloud, he called, “Fractal Code, digitize!”

            The shimmering data stream entered his digivice, leaving behind an egg. The digiegg, now purified, sailed off elsewhere for a second chance. Arbormon, meanwhile, devolved into a doubled-over, panting Katsuharu.

            “You okay?” Teppei checked.

            “Don’t know if I’m trying that again,” he breathed. “Not without a whole lot of help.” Looking at Koichi, he asked, “Does this kind of thing happen every time?”

            Koichi shrugged. “It’s worse for me since I can’t control mine. I don’t think you’ll have too many problems after, though.”

            “Okay,” Katsuharu agreed. “’Cause if I’m going to save this world, I don’t want any more problems than I already have.”

            “You mean you’re really going to stay and fight?” Bokomon asked, surprised.

            Katsuharu offered a tired grin. “I’m not going to let a bunch of bullies like Angemon destroy this place.” Teppei nodded grimly in agreement. “We’ll all stay. We’ve got something worth protecting.”

            They headed back into the Trailmon, and Katsuharu took the opportunity to lie down. He was about to drift off when Teruo said, “Hey, Bokomon, you said you knew Takuya, right?” Cracking one eye open, he looked over to his friends. Bokomon and Neemon were sharing Chiaki’s lap, and the kids were all looking at them with interest. With a grimace, Katsuharu sat up. Bokomon and Neemon, however, were looking regretful.

            “What’s wrong?” Koichi asked.

            “Takuya’s one of Ophanimon’s Legendary Warriors,” Bokomon explained. Teruo stared in shock, his mouth open as he tried to find words. Bokomon continued, “He and the others were put under a spell one night when we discovered the page on the Beast Spirits. We don’t know exactly what happened.”

            “How many other Warriors does Ophanimon have?” Katsuharu asked.

            Bokomon shook his head sadly. “Five. Takuya has the Spirit of Flame, but four others hold Light, Thunder, Ice, and Wind: Koji, J.P., Tommy, and Zoë.”

            After today, it didn’t seem as though the children could face any more betrayal. But Bokomon could tell from the looks on their faces that all five of them were about to face one more.

 

Standard disclaimer applies: I do not own Digimon Frontier; it is the property of Toei Entertainment and Disney. I haven’t been in the fandom for a while, so the style will be a little different for me, especially with this plot: having the heroes be evil and using villains (and minor characters) as heroes. Depending on plot necessities, some other good minor characters will remain good, where others, like Angemon, will be evil. Major thanks to Ryan Griffin for his help throughout.

Updates will be sporadic, as I have college and other projects to focus on. But expect a new chapter every six months at most, updating roughly alongside “Survival Diaries.”

ETA: Revised as of May 25, 2007. Mostly edits to Katsuharu and Chiaki’s dialogue, to match characterization.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            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:

            “Mercurymon!”

            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.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Three: “Karma”

            “Koichi!” Teruo whispered. “Hey, wake up!”

            “What?” Koichi mumbled, opening his eyes. The first thing he noticed was that Teruo was looking at him with concern. The next thing he noticed was that he was curled up in bed with his hands on his head. Confused, he sat up.

            “Are you okay?” Teruo checked. “You were like that when I woke up.”

            “I’m fine,” Koichi assured, confused. “Guess I must have had a nightmare. I can’t remember a thing.” He stretched and asked, “How are you feeling?”

            Teruo slumped a little bit and admitted, “I’m okay, considering everything.” Then, wanting to change the subject, he added, “Katsuharu’s up too. We’ll have to wait for a bath for now since Chiaki’s taking one now. He says after we wash up, we have to go.”

            “Okay,” he agreed, grabbing his green shirt and pulling it on. He and Teruo pulled the blankets up on their beds before heading out to the village center. Katsuharu, Bokomon, and Neemon were on the ground, eating and looking at the book.

            “Hey, how’d you sleep?” Katsuharu asked.

            “Pretty good,” Teruo answered. “I’m a little sore though, but I don’t find as many burns or bruises as I thought I would.”

            “Still, you should be careful when you wash up,” he advised. “And be quick. Takuya’s probably going to call the other Warriors here soon. It could take some time, since they’re human and still need to eat and rest, but we need to be ready to leave fast.”

            “We could be in even more danger than you realize,” Bokomon warned. “The Forest Kingdom is under Seraphimon’s domain.”

            “Wait,” Koichi interrupted. “Cherubimon told me he defeated Seraphimon.”
            “Yes, but that isn’t the same as getting rid of him completely,” Bokomon explained. “If Ophanimon’s Warriors manage to revive Seraphimon, you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands.”

            Katsuharu shook his head. “Then we have to assume that’s why they’re here. Do you know where Seraphimon is, Koichi?”

            He shrugged. “All I know is that he’s at his castle. That’s it.”

            “That would be near Forest Terminal,” Bokomon replied. “It’s at the center of the area.”

            “I’m not sure what we can do,” Katsuharu commented. “We don’t stand a chance of fighting Seraphimon.”

            “Maybe we don’t have to,” Teruo argued. “If Cherubimon defeated him, he’s going to be weakened.”

            “He is supposed to be sealed in crystal,” Koichi admitted. “Maybe there is a way we can destroy him while he’s still in there.”

            “Yeah,” Teruo agreed. “But I think we’ll need all of our Spirits first. We need to try and find them, and hope they’re not too far.”

            “But at the same time, we can’t let Ophanimon’s Warriors reach the castle before us,” Koichi pointed out.

            “Strategizing without me?” Teppei asked, stretching and walking over. “I thought I was supposed to be second-in-command.”

            “Sorry, Teppei,” Katsuharu apologized. “You’re my best friend and all, but you have a big problem with foresight. Teruo and Koichi are better strategists.”

            Teppei sulked. “Then what am I? The enforcer?”

            “Actually, get Chiaki mad enough, and she does a much better job than you,” Katsuharu remembered.

            “What?” Teppei asked. “Then where does that leave me? Comic relief?”

            “Well, we didn’t want to just come out and tell you…” Teruo joked. Teppei was the only one not laughing, settling for a glare.

            Chiaki walked over to them, shivering as she wringed the water out of her hair. “Be careful taking your baths, guys,” she warned. “The water is freezing.”

            The village leader, a Gawappamon, looked down sadly. “I’m sorry about that, but our few fire-element villagers can only melt the ice. Our river’s been freezing lately, and we don’t know why.”

            Cherubimon’s Warriors looked at each other, and Teppei voiced what was on their minds: “Mysteriously freezing river? Sounds like the Warrior of Ice.”

            “Tommy,” Katsuharu pointed out.

            “I know,” Teppei replied. “But there’s still two Spirits for us to find.”

            “Yes,” Bokomon answered, reviewing the Spirits in his book. “You already have Darkness, Wood, and Steel. All that’s left are Earth and Water.”

            “So it’s Water for Chiaki and Earth for Teppei,” Koichi surmised.

            “Hey,” Teppei cut in. “Who’s to say I don’t get Water and Chiaki doesn’t get Earth?”

            “Ranamon wears a girl’s bathing suit,” Koichi answered in a completely serious tone, unfazed by Teppei’s mortified face. “But if you want it, then by all means…”

            “Oh no, not you too!” Teppei moaned as everyone started snickering.

            “Okay,” Katsuharu decided, just managing to get a straight face again. “We’d better go wash up…”

            “And freeze,” Teppei cut in.

            “And freeze,” he continued, “so we can head off again.”

            Chiaki sat down on a blanket and graciously accepted a cup of hot tea with her fruit for breakfast. She sipped it carefully, grateful for the warmth that seemed to go through every bit of her. Bokomon, meanwhile, was furiously adding information on Mercurymon into the book, while Neemon contented himself by stuffing his face with fruit. But no less than five minutes later, the boys came over, dripping wet and shivering. Even their clothes were soaked, as if they hadn’t bothered to wait to dry off a little before putting them back on.

            “Please tell me there’s more tea,” Teppei begged.

            “I think so,” she answered.

            “I didn’t think it would be that cold,” Teruo admitted, rubbing his arms.

            “It wasn’t that cold,” Koichi insisted. In fact, he was the only one not shivering, even though he did look chilled.

            “Were you in a different river?” Katsuharu asked. “It was that cold.” As a Kamemon came along with tea, he took it and said, “Wish I had your immunity to the cold.”

            “Is there anything you are vulnerable to?” Teppei asked after taking a sip of tea. “You don’t get tired, you don’t get cold…”

            “It’s probably my Spirit,” Koichi answered, his face suddenly looking sour. “I wind up with different strengths and worse weaknesses.”

            It quickly became apparent that they needed to change the subject fast, so Katsuharu turned to Bokomon and said, “You know, you never did tell us how you met Ophanimon’s Warriors and what happened to them.”

            Bokomon turned the pages of his book to what seemed to be an entry on Agunimon, then cleared his throat to say, “We essentially met them by accident in the Village of Flames. A Cerberumon was attacking the village, undoubtedly on Ophanimon’s orders. Neemon and I were running from him when we encountered Takuya.”

            “We knocked him over!” Neemon provided.

            “Er, yes,” Bokomon answered, sounding as if he’d very much like to forget that part. “Anyway, Takuya, J.P., Tommy, and Zoë had just met, and Tommy was trying to go back to the human world. Takuya tried to keep him from falling off the tracks, but he fell himself. That was when he found his Spirit of Flame and defeated Cerberumon, saving the village.”

            “Not that this isn’t fascinating,” Teppei cut in, “but do you think you can speed it up? We really need to get out of here fast.”

            “Oh, all right,” Bokomon replied, put out. “We found Koji some time later, but he left soon after he found his Spirit. We traveled to various areas to collect the other Spirits, until we finally encountered Koji by accident in a KaratsukiNumemon settlement. He had been injured in a fall, and they were nursing him back to health. We planned to stay as long as needed until Koji recovered, which he didn’t agree to, but then it rained that night. Takuya, Koji, and Tommy slipped on the mountain paths and fell into another area, so Zoë, J.P., Neemon, and I went to find them. Our two groups had separate adventures, but we finally reunited on the outskirts of the Forest Kingdom. Someone had been instructing them over their D-tectors to meet there.”

            “Cherubimon?” Teruo guessed.

            “No, this was a female voice,” Bokomon answered. “I think it might have been Ophanimon, which explains everything. We discovered in the forest that there were trees that gave them a glimpse of their world, and it upset Tommy when he saw his mother searching for him. That night, he was put under the spell of a Bakumon and attacked us. Takuya nearly succumbed to it too, but he woke up quickly and defeated the Bakumon.”

            “Under a spell?” Teruo asked. “Do you think maybe Takuya and the others are under another Bakumon’s spell?”

            “I suppose it could be possible,” Bokomon reasoned. “But it would have to be a very strong one, otherwise Takuya and Tommy would break out of it easily.”

            “You got an idea?” Katsuharu asked.

            “Not really,” Teruo admitted. “But I told Koichi last night I didn’t think Ophanimon was doing the spell herself. Maybe that attack on Tommy was a test to see if it would work.”

            “And it did,” Koichi mused. “She probably has a lot more Bakumon using stronger spells.” Teruo nodded.

            “We’re going to have trouble,” Chiaki pointed out. “Ophanimon probably has those Bakumon under lock and key. Stopping them would mean fighting her. It’ll probably be easier to fight all the Warriors first.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu admitted with a sigh. “Looks like this time, ‘attack the source’ just isn’t going to cut it.” He looked over at Koichi, who was fiddling with his D-tector. “What are you doing?”

            “Cherubimon told me once that this thing had a compass on it,” he explained. “I’m trying to figure out how it works.” After he pressed the buttons a few times, a holographic sphere appeared over the screen.

            “Got any idea how to read it?” Teppei asked.

            “I don’t think it’s pointing north,” Chiaki said, pointing in the direction of the rising sun. “If that’s east, then north would be ahead of us. The dot on that compass is pointing closer toward west.”

            “Maybe it’s more of a map than a compass,” Teruo commented. “We’re trying to get to Forest Terminal, right? So maybe it points out what we need to find.”

            “That doesn’t make any sense,” Teppei argued.

            “Neither does turning into a Digimon,” Katsuharu replied, “but Teruo, Koichi, and I can do that.”

            “The D-tectors are probably in tune with your thoughts through your Spirits,” Bokomon theorized. “The compass is pointing you in the direction of where you want to go.”

            “Looks like we have a bit of a problem then,” Katsuharu realized, showing off his compass. Two points appeared on the sphere—one roughly west and one roughly south.

            “What were you thinking about?” Chiaki asked.

            “A lot of things,” he admitted. “Where the Forest Terminal is, where Ophanimon’s Warriors are, where the next Spirit is… It looks like we have to choose which way to go.”

            “You’re the leader,” Teppei pointed out. “It’s your call.”

            Katsuharu sighed, “I was afraid you’d say that. We need to head to Seraphimon’s castle, but we also need to get those Spirits.” He sighed again before deciding, “I guess the Spirit is more important. We can’t fight Seraphimon without it.” And with that decision, only the point to the south remained on the compass. “Okay, everyone. Finish breakfast, and we’ll get moving.”

            ~~~

            The better part of the morning was spent walking through the forest, in search of the Spirit. A couple of times, they paused to rest aching feet, but for the most part, they didn’t stop. After Takuya’s attack the night before, they were worried about how much time they had to find it. Following the compass brought them to a sudden dead stretch of land, surrounded by trees. It looked liked someone had ripped all trace of life right out of it.

            “Did the area get scanned?” Koichi asked.

            “Don’t get any closer!” Katsuharu warned, pulling him back when he started to head forward. “Something’s definitely not right about this. I don’t like how it’s got nothing growing in it.”

            “What’s the problem?” Bokomon asked from behind.

            “It’s like there’s a hole in the forest,” Katsuharu answered, stepping aside for Bokomon to see. “I don’t like the look of it.”

            Bokomon took one look at the dead land and declared, “We can’t go this way! That’s the sinking sands—we’d never make it across!”

            “I take it the sinking sands work exactly how they sound,” Teppei commented, kneeling down to feel the earth. The sand felt soft and almost like a liquid. He shuddered and wiped his hand off immediately. “Feels like the Pool of Unearthly Goo to me.”

            “Why did you do that?” Chiaki asked, staring at him in disbelief. “There was no point.”

            “Lack of foresight, combined with a natural curiosity,” Katsuharu answered.

            “Story of my life,” Teppei agreed.

            “Let’s head around it,” Katsuharu decided. “West is probably the best way to go; that way, we can still make our way to Seraphimon’s castle faster.”

            “Come on,” Teppei urged Neemon, who was sticking leaves and twigs in the sand just to watch them sink.

            The forest around the sinking sands was tangled with vines and tree roots, as if the wood was trying to make up for lack of growth in that one area. Katsuharu managed to remain on his feet, and Teruo fell twice without bruising himself. The others weren’t so lucky, and before long, most of them looked like they’d lost a fight with the forest itself.

            Suddenly, Katsuharu heard talking somewhere to their right. Hushing the others, he peered through the bushes. On the other side, somewhat farther away, were Tommy and J.P. The others peeked carefully. The two were speaking into their D-tectors, and though their words were indistinct, the intent was loud and clear. Cherubimon’s Warriors needed to get out of there. But Katsuharu was still, his hands clenching into tight fists. Koichi had to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention and point him out to the others escaping. Reluctantly, the former bully nodded and followed.

            The retreat was as silent and fast as they could make it. No one spoke, and everyone helped each other get through the roots and vines. If someone was about to trip, someone else would grab them from behind or support them from the front. Everything was going perfectly until Takuya jumped out of a tree nearby.

            “I was wondering when you’d show up,” he remarked. “I was beginning to get bored of waiting.”

            “Run!” Katsuharu ordered as he and Teruo pulled out their D-tectors.

            It was amazing how much chaos could set in during an ambush. Somehow or another, the escaping kids got separated. Bokomon and Neemon started to run in one direction, so Koichi took off to grab them. Chiaki ran in another direction, and Teppei in yet another. The problem was that Teppei didn’t realize where he was running until he was knee-deep in the sinking sands.

            “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” he muttered, turning around to try and run in the opposite direction. The forest behind him was beginning to burn, cutting off his chance to return. Worse, he didn’t think he’d make it, with the sand shifting underneath his feet.

            Have to try and make it across, he realized in a panic.

            He started trying to run, but it was hard moving his legs through the sand. It felt like he was trying to run through water or very thick mud. The sand under his feet was anything but stable, making him stumble and sink. The sand was up to his waist within the next two minutes, and before he could even make it to the middle of the sand field, he was stuck up to his chest and sinking deeper.

            What was it the movies always say about getting stuck in quicksand? he asked himself. Don’t move, and you should be fine?

            The sand began to shift even further, and its level crept closer and closer to his neck.

            “I’m dead,” he decided.

            ~~~

            “Remind me never again to get in a two-on-three battle unless there’s three of us,” Arbormon muttered to Mercurymon.

            His complaint was an excellent summary of the battle. Agunimon had attacked almost the minute they started to evolve, leaving painful burns on their human forms underneath their Digimon exteriors. This made it very painful for them to move, and Agunimon had taken full advantage of it by calling in Tommy and J.P., who had evolved to their Digimon forms, Kumamon and Beetlemon. Right now, Arbormon and Mercurymon were back-to-back, trying to block against elements the other was immune to. That meant Mercurymon was blocking Agunimon and Arbormon blocked Beetlemon, but both were getting frozen by Kumamon.

            “Crystal Breeze!” Kumamon shouted, blasting his icy breath at Arbormon’s chest.

            “Switch!” Mercurymon cried, seeing Beetlemon come closer. This gave him the chance to block the ice attack, just as Agunimon started to unleash another fire barrage. Arbormon, meanwhile, swung one of his retractable arms at Beetlemon’s head. The vines around them had already caught fire from the lightning and flame attacks.

            “Thunder Fist!” Beetlemon yelled, sending forth an electrified punch. Arbormon raised his arms to block it, but the force was enough to knock him and Mercurymon over.

            “Okay, this is not working,” Arbormon decided, rolling off of Mercurymon. More attacks kept coming as they were on the ground, forcing them to block as much as they could. It wasn’t enough.

            “We need to split up and hope they don’t find the others,” Mercurymon pointed out, barely holding off another fire attack.

            “All right then,” Arbormon agreed, shooting out his arms and yanking Beetlemon’s feet out from underneath him. “Now!”

            Without even bothering to get to their feet, both of Cherubimon’s Warriors scrambled for their exit, finally getting up and running once they had the chance. They ignored the pain in their sides and the forest burning around them. Mercurymon took one direction and Arbormon the other, hoping against hope that Ophanimon’s Warriors would follow them and not search for their friends.

            Purely by chance, Arbormon ended up at the sinking sands, where a shocked Teppei stared at him, buried up to his neck.

            “Think you can help me out of here?” Teppei asked.

            Arbormon was about to answer when a blast of electricity came out of the woods. He leapt up to avoid it, and some of the sand turned to molten glass, only to sink beneath the surface. Beetlemon soon followed, nearly tackling Arbormon, who reached out for one of the distant trees to swing out of the way.

            “Sorry, but I’m a little busy here!” he shouted.

            Teppei sighed and blew sand away from his face. He didn’t know how long he’d been stuck in there, but it had definitely been long enough for him. He’d tried pulling himself up, but it wasn’t like treading water. Right now, he could hardly move at all.

            “Okay, I know I’ve been a bad kid,” he negotiated. “I picked on Tommy all the time, and I was pretty rotten to my parents. Katsuharu was the first person I really respected, and he was almost as bad as me. But I can grow, I promise. Just give me a chance. Whoever’s listening out there, whether it’s God, karma personified, or…I don’t know, Koichi’s dead grandma? Just please get me out of here alive!”

            “I knew I’d find you sooner or later,” declared a voice. Eyes wide, Teppei looked over to see a Digimon resembling a bear made of snow.

            “Tommy?” he guessed.

            “It’s Kumamon now,” he answered. “And I’m sick of bullies like you always picking on me.”

            “Tommy, I’m really sorry,” Teppei pleaded. “I was a jerk, but I promise you that I won’t ever do it again…”

            “Quiet!” Kumamon ordered. “There’s only one way to deal with bullies. Crystal Breeze!”

            The attack wasn’t close enough to do any damage to Teppei, but it could build a bridge across the sand. He stared in horror as ice started to form over the sand, giving direct access to his prone head sticking out of the sand. But then, to his relief, the sand swallowed the bridge.

            “Thank you, Grandma Kimura,” he murmured under his breath.

            This didn’t impede Kumamon in the least, however. He suddenly pulled out a rocket launcher of all things and aimed at Teppei’s head with a shout of “Blizzard Blaster!”

            Teppei knew he only had once chance to avoid the snowballs coming for him: he took a breath and pulled himself under the sand. It was only afterward, when his lungs screamed for air, that he realized how little he’d planned this through.

            I’m really going to die here, he realized with dread.

            The sands around him suddenly started shifting again, creating a solid, hollow sphere around him. He fell to his hands and knees, taking in breath gratefully.

            “I have no idea how that happened, but…” he started before noticing a glow from his pocket. He reached in and pulled out his cell phone, watching in awe as it turned into a brown and purple D-tector. The ground started shifting again, the Spirit of Earth came up in front of him.

            “It figures,” he muttered. “My Spirit has no idea how to be subtle.” Still, he held out his new D-tector and allowed the Spirit to enter. He had the mental image of a short Digimon passing through him before he got to his feet with renewed determination.

            Earth was known for its starkness, providing a history of the world every time someone saw a mountain or a canyon. Everything was said to eventually return to the earth, to bring new life. It provided gravity, a steadiness for everything to live. Even ocean life depended on the earth, for what would hold the water? And yet, it was often underestimated and taken for granted. Altogether, it was, in effect, the story of Teppei’s life.

            “My turn,” he decided, forming a ring of Fractal Code around his hand. “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            The evolution happened just as the others described, ripping his clothes and glasses away. But instead of armor forming around his body, very tough skin did instead, and his eyes adjusted away from his astigmatism. A massive hammer formed in his hands, and he used it to smash open his globe of Fractal Code, declaring his name:

            “Grumblemon!”

            A second later, he groaned, “Sure, I get the stupid name.”

            He swung his hammer up at the hardened sand, breaking a big enough hole to leap out. Despite being the Warrior of Earth, Grumblemon was glad to see that gravity didn’t mind letting go of him every once in a while. A couple of high leaps brought him back to solid ground.

            No sign of Tommy, he noticed. He checked the ground to see if there was any sign of Kumamon’s footprints, but there was nothing. The little bear apparently didn’t leave frozen or wet tracks, like Grumblemon expected. His best chance would be to look for Katsuharu; there was no doubt in his mind that Tommy would target him next.

            Arbormon, in the meantime, was thoroughly getting beaten by his classmate. He was more resistant to lightning than to fire, but he still had his limits. Five straight blasts of Lightning Blitz followed up with four rounds of Thunder Fist were just beyond those limits.

            “What’s your problem?” Arbormon asked. “I hardly even know you, and you’ve got such a vendetta against me!”

            “That’s not the point,” Beetlemon argued. “The point is that you hurt a friend of mine. I’m just going to return the favor.”

            And with that, he drove an electrified fist into Arbormon’s solar plexus with incredible force. He drew his hand back, covered in splinters and probably broken, as Arbormon fell in a heap and devolved. Katsuharu’s chest had been protected by his armor, keeping him from taking any internal injuries. But he still couldn’t breathe, and his chest was beginning to bruise. He could only lie prone on the ground, trying to breathe as carefully as possible. He could hear electricity crackling above him, but he couldn’t do anything to defend himself or escape.

            “Seismic Sledge!”

            The shout, in Teppei’s voice, surprised him. It surprised him even more when he looked up to see a fairly small Digimon wielding a massive sledgehammer throwing Beetlemon farther away into the woods. Because he didn’t come back to continue fighting, they assumed he’d either fallen unconscious or retreated.

            “Well, I was aiming for the tree,” he muttered, “but I guess that worked…” He turned to Katsuharu and asked, “Are you all right?” By this point, Katsuharu could only cough and clutch his chest in pain. “Okay, dumb question. But you need to get out of here. Tommy’s coming after you. I just managed to escape by evolving.” Still coughing, Katsuharu shook his head.

            “No one’s going anywhere,” Kumamon declared, leveling his snowball launcher on them. “Blizzard Blaster!”

            In any other situation, Teppei would never have considered blocking a snowball attack with a mallet. It was just too absurd, and snowballs didn’t warrant that kind of insanity. But when snowballs were being blasted at him from a fairly high-powered rocket launcher, he was trying his hardest to swing the hammer without hurting Katsuharu in the process. As long as Katsuharu couldn’t move, he was a liability. Grumblemon couldn’t fight. So he decided to settle for what he was best at: bullying.

            “Wow, Tommy, nice work,” he mocked. “I can see you’re so much stronger now. Except for the part where you’re not.”

            “Shut up!” Kumamon yelled. “What do you know?”

            “I know you’re attacking someone who can’t even defend himself,” Grumblemon answered. “I’d never expect that from a Legendary Warrior.”

            “Crystal Breeze!”

            Grumblemon made certain that Katsuharu didn’t get hit at all, but he himself was covered in frost. It was the coldest he’d ever felt, but he tried to ignore it, continuing with, “You know what that makes you?”

            Kumamon morphed into a giant icicle with a shout of “Frozen Tundra!” and practically flew toward Grumblemon. He couldn’t block Kumamon with his hammer, so he was forced to dodge slightly, taking the blow on his shoulder. It barely scratched his tough skin.

            “You’re nothing but a bully!” he shouted.

            Once again, Teppei proved his lack of foresight. He’d expected the taunt to throw Tommy off, scare him out of attacking. Unfortunately, he’d neglected the fact that Tommy had obviously grown during his time with Ophanimon’s Warriors, and that whatever spell Ophanimon had on him was probably very powerful. So while Kumamon forgot all about attacking Katsuharu, Grumblemon found himself getting pelted with high-velocity snowballs—snowballs which, he learned the hard way, were partially frozen solid.

            “Glad my Digimon form has such tough skin,” he muttered. “Otherwise, this would really hurt.”

            “Teppei,” Katsuharu gasped out, wincing at the pain in his chest, “get the others. You’ve got the Spirit now, so we can get out of here. I’ll catch up.”

            “Okay then,” he agreed, running at Kumamon and swinging his hammer. Kumamon jumped out of the way, but Grumblemon started running. “Try and catch me, unless you’re too much of a wimp to try!”

            The goading worked. Kumamon took chase, firing his snowballs the whole time. Grumblemon dodged as much as he could, taking turns here and there in the desperate attempt to lose him. Unfortunately, Kumamon was dead-set on revenge and never let him get too far out of range. The forest all around them was in different stages of burning, and somewhere in the back of his mind, Teppei was worried about Koichi, Chiaki, Neemon, and Bokomon. But with Kumamon chasing him so doggedly, he couldn’t let himself worry too much. Instead, he tried to be sure that the ice attacks hit some of the flames, at least slowing the fire’s spread. But soon, he came to a dead end, trapped on all sides by either fire or Kumamon.

            “Blizzard Blaster!”

            The snowballs hit him in the back, throwing him right through the flames and, to his surprise, into Mercurymon’s back. In an ironic turn of events, he knocked Mercurymon to the ground just as Agunimon fired off his Pyro Punch and Kumamon came up with his Crystal Breeze. The attacks connected with their unintended targets, blasting both backwards into the trees, forcibly devolving them and leaving them unconscious.

            “Um,” Mercurymon started, “did you plan for that to happen?”

            “Let’s just say that I did and go with it,” Grumblemon decided. “Come on. We need to find the others, and Katsuharu’s hurt.”

            “But we can’t leave them,” Mercurymon pointed out. “Not with the forest burning like this.”

            Grumblemon sighed in exasperation. “Fine, we can at least put out the fire. But we need to hurry. I don’t know how much longer they or J.P. are going to stay unconscious.”

            They started destroying the burning trees, knocking them down and trying to beat down the flames. Mercurymon almost immediately went to help put Takuya on the ground, but Grumblemon hesitated for a moment around Tommy. It would be so easy to take his D-tector and with it, his Spirit of Ice. But his own words rang in his mind, that a bully was someone who picked on someone who couldn’t defend himself.

            “Yep,” he sighed, “I definitely have a problem with foresight.” No one had ever told him how tough it was being one of the good guys. Even so, he left Tommy’s D-tector untouched.

            Once they’d managed to put out the blaze, they devolved. Fortunately, not all of the forest had been badly burned; while there were areas that looked like nothing more than charcoal, some areas were merely scorched. A good rain and time would heal it. And just as Teppei was thinking that the forest was eerily quiet, his D-tector began to beep.

            “Huh?” he asked, stopping in his tracks to pull it out of his pocket. Teruo looked over his shoulder as a purple symbol like the character for darkness appeared on screen. “Uh, Koichi?”

            “Thank God,” breathed the voice on the other end. It indeed was Koichi. “Teppei, where are you? We found Katsuharu and he only managed to say you ran off looking for us before he started coughing.”

            “Teruo and I are fine,” he assured. “How’s Katsuharu?”

            “He’s breathing, if that’s what you mean,” Koichi answered. “Where are you?”

            “Better yet, where are you?” Teruo asked. “We can meet you before trying to head anywhere else.”

            “I think we’re on the south side of the sinking sands,” Chiaki replied. “Ophanimon’s Warriors are nowhere in sight. Katsuharu said you defeated Beetlemon, but we can’t find him.”

            “You don’t think he’ll attack them?” Teruo asked Teppei, who shrugged.

            “Who knows? There’s still two more we have to face: Koji and Zoë.” Into the D-tector, he said, “We’re heading over to the south side now. Meet you there.”

            ~~~

            It had been a fairly long walk to where the others were—a distance Teppei hadn’t noticed while running for his life both times. The injured and exhausted Warriors found a large tree with a hollowed-out base and took refuge in it to rest and nurse their wounds. Teppei rubbed his sore shoulder and tried not to look at the others. Katsuharu took off his shirt to reveal a large reddening bruise at his solar plexus and minor burns near his stomach. Teruo’s burns were already starting to heal, so he took the few bandages they had and started wrapping up Katsuharu’s injuries. Koichi and Chiaki had been lucky enough to avoid getting attacked, and so kept an eye out for any potential danger. No one said a thing: Katsuharu couldn’t, Teruo was concentrating on bandaging him, Bokomon was writing in his book, Neemon had fallen asleep, and Koichi and Chiaki were silently keeping watch. Teppei felt like the silence was forcing him to think back on his encounter with Tommy.

            It’s like karma, he thought. I bullied him back home, and now he’s so messed up that he’s willing to attack us like that. Even though Katsuharu was hurt, he wouldn’t leave him alone. I wasn’t that bad, was I?

            “Are you okay?” Koichi asked. Both he and Chiaki were watching him. He figured he might be able to get away with lying to Koichi, but Chiaki would catch him in a heartbeat.

            “Just thinking about the battle and everything,” he said in as soft a voice as he could manage. “I really get now why Teruo was so adamant on defending Takuya. The Tommy I know wouldn’t have done what I saw.” They nodded in sympathy. “It made me think about the things I used to do, what I used to think was funny. It’s never until you’re on the receiving end that you realize it’s not. We could have died today, and part of it is my fault.”

            That oppressive silence set in again. Teppei was not a quiet person by nature; he was loud and sarcastic. Noise filled him, and this silence seemed to empty him. But nobody else seemed to be as bothered by the lack of sound: Teruo was often fairly quiet, and Koichi seemed to be rather similar. Chiaki listened for anything, and Katsuharu took the opportunity to sleep. It was like a shadow hung over them, and with all due respect to Koichi’s Spirit, Teppei didn’t care for this feeling of darkness. If anyone was to break the silence and shadows, it would have to be him.

            “Hey, Koichi,” he called.

            “Hmm?”

            “Remind me when we get back home to build a shrine for your grandmother.”

            Koichi gave him an unreadable look. “Why?”

            “Because she’s a god.”

            This statement made everyone who was still conscious stare at him in varying degrees of confusion. Somehow or another, Chiaki managed to ask, “How so?”

            Teppei managed to keep a straight face as he said, “I was trapped in the sinking sands, and I swear she saved me. One minute, Tommy’s attack is freezing the sand, the next, his bridge sinks.”

            Koichi would never know how he found the words, but he asked, “Why do you think it was my grandma?”

            “’Cause everything else I begged help from hates me,” Teppei answered with a grin.

            “You didn’t sink all the way in those sands, did you?” Chiaki asked.

            “Yeah. Why?”

            “Lack of air,” she decided, grinning at Koichi. “It’s made him crazier than usual.”

            “Great,” Teppei mock-groaned. “I have a serious moment of reflection, and all you guys can do is make fun of me?”

            “Well, you are the comic relief,” Teruo reminded him.

            They had a good laugh at Teppei’s expense before Koichi advised, “Maybe you should get some sleep for now. We’re going to have to look for Seraphimon’s castle and the Spirit of Water once Katsuharu’s feeling better.”

            “Yeah, I know,” he replied. “But I can’t sleep right now. You take a rest, and I’ll take your place.”

            “Okay,” Koichi agreed, settling down a bit farther in the tree’s hollow space. “Wake me when one of you needs to switch.”

            “No problem,” Teppei agreed.

            He sat down at the entrance and watched everything as carefully as possible, ignoring Chiaki’s eyes on him, undoubtedly wondering if he was okay. He didn’t need that right now. He just needed to feel the steady earth beneath him. Elementary science taught him that the earth was always changing, even though it appeared to stay the same. Common sense told him it had one of the most important purposes of all ten elements: providing stability and gravity. He had a feeling he was going to be the same way.

 

Once again, some of Teppei’s misfortune was inspired by Sokka from Avatar, namely his “karma” in getting stuck in the ground. His battle with Tommy, however, was partially inspired by Terry’s tactics in the final battle of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Wikipedia provided info on the solar plexus, complementing what I know from tae kwon do—a blow there will leave you winded and possibly unconscious. Thanks to Ryan Griffin and Shaun Garin for their help throughout when I got writer’s block.

As a note: Don’t expect chapters to continue coming out this quickly. Right now, my workload is fairly light, but it’s only the beginning of the semester, and I haven’t had midterms yet. Sometime after I finish with the initial six chapters, updates will be far fewer in-between.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Four: “Ravishing Rain”

            By the time Katsuharu was feeling well enough to walk on his own, it was nearly night and raining. Chiaki had caught a cold and was miserable. So too was everyone else, but not out of some kind of group empathy. Instead, when one of their own was miserable, that person worked hard to ensure the others shared the pain. So everyone decided it was just safer to avoid talking to her and walked as far ahead of her as they could. Somewhere along their path, they’d found trees with large leaves, so everyone had taken a leaf for an umbrella. Teppei walked ahead of everyone, checking the compass on his D-tector and warning everyone when the ground was too soft to walk on; like Teruo, Katsuharu, and Koichi, he’d discovered his own elemental sympathy with earth.

            “Hey, Chiaki,” he warned. “Take a step to your left.” The grouchy girl complied, and a jet of hot air spurted up from the ground where she had been standing. However, she gave no thanks, prompting Teppei to grumble, “You’re welcome.”

            “Hold up for a second,” Teruo called, pausing for a minute to tie his shoelaces more tightly. “I nearly lost my shoe in a couple of those puddles.”

            “Yeah, no problem,” Teppei agreed, looking at his compass. “Looks like the Forest Terminal is still a couple of days away. Maybe we should just find some shelter until the rain stops.”

            “I don’t want to risk it,” Katsuharu decided. “I cost us enough time back there. Ophanimon’s Warriors could already be at the castle already.”

            “I knocked out everybody, remember?” Teppei said. “They’re as delayed as we are.”

            “And that’s why we should keep going,” Katsuharu insisted. “If we can get lucky and find the next Spirit, we can hurry over to the castle and take care of Seraphimon before Ophanimon’s Warriors get there to wake him up.”

            Teppei shrugged and replied, “You’re the boss, Boss,” and started walking again.

            It was not a pleasant hike. The rain came down heavier, and the mud started to remind Teppei of the sinking sands in terms of steadiness. The wind had decided to pick up, whipping them with rain. The trees were hardly any help, dripping large water drops on top of them. Their leaf-umbrellas didn’t offer them complete protection against the wet wind, but they were crucial defense against the rain from above.

            Without any warning, Koichi and Katsuharu slipped and fell face-first in the mud. Everyone behind them stopped while they got to their knees, spitting mud out of their mouths.

            “What happened?” Chiaki asked, holding a handkerchief to her nose.

            Teppei, by this point, had turned around to see the murderous glare Katsuharu was giving him. “Oops,” he replied. “Forgot to warn you about that puddle being slippery.”

            “Teppei, if I wasn’t feeling so sore, I’d hit you,” Katsuharu threatened.

            “Sorry,” Teppei answered. “I’ll make sure to warn you next time.”

            Teruo came over to help Katsuharu to his feet, which let him see the absolutely vindictive grin on his face. No more than thirty seconds later, Teppei tripped over a raised tree root and fell much the same way Koichi and Katsuharu did.

            “Sorry,” Katsuharu said, smirking as Teppei tried to wipe the mud from his glasses. “Next time, I’ll warn you about the trees.”

            Chiaki rolled her eyes. “Can we please find some place to wait out the rain? This is not helping my cold, and you’re all just going to get sick too.”

            Koichi pulled out his D-tector and activated its compass. “There’s some kind of shelter to our right. It should probably be a good place to wait.”

            Katsuharu raised an eyebrow. “You know, that’s the first time you talked since we left. Something up?”

            “It’s nothing, really,” Koichi answered, but Katsuharu kept staring at him until he confessed, “I just had a dream about my grandma, that’s all. I don’t really want to talk about it.”

            “No problem,” Katsuharu answered.

            Chiaki suddenly felt rotten for complaining about a stupid cold when one of her friends was bothered by something like this. She started to suggest that they forget about finding shelter when everyone else silently followed Koichi’s lead.

            Down a small but steep hill was what appeared to be an abandoned and decrepit village. Some of the buildings were destroyed, and their debris cluttered the front of the buildings that still stood. Koichi, Teppei, and Teruo pulled the debris away so everyone could get inside. Once they were inside, they sat down and rubbed their arms to try and get warm.

            “How much longer before we reach the Terminal?” Teruo asked.

            “It’s hard to say,” Bokomon admitted, “but judging by how far we’ve gone already, it should only be another couple of days.”

            “That’s good,” Neemon decided. “I don’t want to walk anymore.”

            “What do you mean walk?” Teppei asked. “Half the time, we’re carrying you.”

            A good-natured argument broke out, but not everyone decided to join in the teasing. Koichi was sitting some distance away from the others, and out of a massive feeling of guilt, Chiaki went over to him. He hardly seemed to notice her and just distractedly poked holes in the dirt.

            “Sorry about causing such a fuss,” she apologized. “I really shouldn’t be so much of a baby about being sick.”

            “It’s okay,” he answered. “We should have stopped anyway with Katsuharu hurt.”

            “Still,” she insisted, “I shouldn’t have been so caught up in my own little problems. Usually, I try to help everyone else, but I could have done a much better job of that today.”

            “I’ll be fine,” he assured. “It wasn’t even a nightmare.”

            “But it still shook you up, right?” she guessed. “How long ago did she die?”

            He shrugged. “I don’t know how long I’ve been in the Digital World, but I know it happened a little over a week before I came here.”

            “Then it’s only been a month,” she pointed out. “It’s okay to feel a little disturbed when you think about that.” Then, thinking of something else, she added, “I know it may sound insensitive, but how did you react at the funeral? I’ve heard that sometimes people have a delayed reaction…”

            “I was hurt and still a little shocked,” he confessed. “I had a hard time helping Mom pick the bones out of the ashes.”

            “Didn’t you have other relatives who could do that?” she asked in surprise.

            He shook his head. “I—my mom doesn’t have any other relatives. I’m all she has left.”

            “Oh,” she replied, feeling very strange. She and Katsuharu had siblings, and Teruo and Teppei were only children, but none of them were as alone as Koichi.

            “Even though a lot of family friends offered to help, Mom still had a hard time paying for everything,” he continued. “She’s working even harder now to pay it off. She was sick the whole time, and she’s still working long hours.”

            He went silent after that, so she didn’t press him further. She would have liked to sit with the others, but she didn’t want to leave him alone right now, even if they seemed to think that giving him time to himself would help. She’d learned that even sitting by someone who was hurting could help ease the pain.

            Neither of them noticed that Teruo was watching them with an unreadable look on his face. In fact, Teppei and Neemon were the only ones who did, since Katsuharu and Bokomon were looking through the book. Raising an eyebrow, Teppei poked Teruo in the shoulder.

            “Something wrong?” he whispered.

            “No,” Teruo answered a little too quickly.

            “Nothing?”

            “Nothing.”

            “Really?”

            “Really.”

            “You sure?” Neemon asked.

            “Nothing’s wrong!” Teruo insisted. Unfortunately, he said it too loudly and called Katsuharu and Bokomon’s attention. He started to blush in embarrassment.

            “Are you okay?” Katsuharu asked, one eyebrow raised.

            “I’m fine,” he insisted as calmly as he could manage, which was hardly impressive. Katsuharu and Bokomon looked at each other for a second, shrugged, and went back to their review.

            “So nothing’s wrong?” Teppei checked.

            “No!” Teruo whispered.

            “Okay, just wanted to be sure,” he answered. “’Cause it looked to me like you were a little jealous.” Teruo refused to look at him. “Of course, I’m probably wrong. After all, there’s no reason for you to be jealous. You and Chiaki are just good friends, same as we are. And Chiaki and Koichi are friends too. No reason to be jealous.”

            “Right,” Teruo answered hesitantly. “No reason.”

            It was only by chance that he moved his hand back and felt the water. Unable to trace its source and forgetting his momentary envy, he called over, “Hey, Koichi? Can you come over here for a second?”

            “What is it?” he asked, walking over.

            “I felt something wet, but I don’t know where it came from,” Teruo replied. “Can you see anything?”

            Koichi looked at the ground where Teruo was pointing and saw a handprint partially filled with a trickling stream of water. The water left a trail leading to the door, so he went over to see what the problem was. When he saw it, everything made sense: the abandoned village, the swept-up debris, the steep hill…

            “We need to get out of here,” he declared. “The area’s flooding.”

            What had started out as simply a heavy rain-shower had suddenly become a howling storm. The water was up to their calves and rising; Teruo and Koichi had to carry Bokomon and Neemon so they wouldn’t drown. Everyone sloshed through the water, trying not to trip over debris or be swept away by the fast current. The wind was chilly, blasting the rain at them like a spray of needles. Teppei led them to the hillside and climbed up, reaching down to help everyone else. Katsuharu was pulled up first, followed by Teruo and Bokomon and Koichi and Neemon. Chiaki, however, was having a hard time fighting the wind to get over to them. A sudden gust knocked her off her feet into the now waist-level riptide. She could hear everyone calling her name before her head went under, and she fought desperately to bring her head back up. When she succeeded, she desperately took in coughing breaths.

            “Chiaki!” Katsuharu cried. “Grab the debris!”

            Despite her scare, she was lucid enough to notice the floating wreckage around her. There was a large piece of a fallen log not far away, so she swam as hard as she could to reach it. Then she held onto it for dear life.

            “Follow the current!” Koichi added. “We’ll catch up!”

            She honestly had no choice. The waves were far too powerful for her to swim through, so all she could do was tread while clinging to the driftwood. Soon, she couldn’t see or hear her friends back near the path. A couple of times, she almost got close enough to the banks of the newly formed river that she might have been able to pull herself ashore, but she didn’t trust the water not to pull her under if she even let one hand let go of the driftwood. In addition, she was getting tired and had no idea how long she would be able to keep treading, let alone pull herself to high ground. She would have to wait until the others caught up and helped her.

            Just have to keep holding on, she reminded herself.

            “Hurricane Wave!”

            A powerful gust of wind knocked Chiaki underwater again, but she kept a tight grip on the log and pulled herself back up. Coughing and sputtering, she hardly noticed the Legendary Warrior of Wind hovering right in front of her.

            “That’s better,” she declared. “Your friends are too far away to help you now.”

            “Zoë?” Chiaki asked, choking.

            “That’s Kazemon to you,” she replied. She held her hands palms-up and allowed tornadoes to form from her fingertips. “Hurricane Wave!”

            The wind created a large, powerful wave. Chiaki was thrown against the riverbank, the driftwood knocked out of her hands. Her only choice was to try and climb. She dug her fingers and feet into the mud, trying to find something strong enough to hold onto as she pulled herself up. Some roots provided good handholds where her feet kept slipping. She was exhausted and sick, but she wouldn’t stop pulling herself to safety. Once she got to high ground, she got to her feet and started running for the forest.

            “You can’t hide, Chiaki!” Kazemon declared. “I’ll find you no matter what!”

            Chiaki put her back against a tree as a massive wind gust tore through the woods. From the sound of it, several trees had fallen. The attack was certainly living up to its name. She willed herself not to sneeze or cough, covering her nose and mouth. In the brief periods of silence that were a prelude to another gale, Chiaki feared Kazemon was listening for her racing heartbeat.

            Would this be happening if I had just been friends with her? she asked herself.

            When Zoë Orimoto first came to their school, no one knew what to make of her. She was a strange girl, Japanese only by birth and Italian in every other way. She would randomly throw in Italian words and phrases when speaking unless she paid close attention to what she was saying, and she hardly seemed to understand the way things were. She wasn’t into the kinds of things other girls were and was completely clueless about the latest trends. She stood out, and that made her extremely unpopular with the other girls, especially Amaya, who was especially fond of making rude comments while the foreign girl was in earshot. Chiaki hadn’t ever joined in on such teasing, but she never went out of her way to try and befriend Zoë either. The last person who had tried, Ran, had to deal with the teasing from Amaya for the rest of their camping trip. Come to think of it, Zoë had yelled at Ran too for withdrawing her friendship so quickly. Sometimes, when walking back from chorus practice, Chiaki would see Zoë sitting alone in the courtyard at school. She always wanted to go up and talk to her, but Amaya was never far from her mind. The girl had enough influence to alienate whomever she didn’t like. She was popular and her parents were rich; it was a dangerous combination. So Chiaki regretfully kept her distance from Zoë, just to keep her own friends.

            If I had just tried to befriend her, would Ophanimon have gotten her so easily? she wondered. If Ran hadn’t decided to give into Amaya’s taunts, would Zoë still be one of Ophanimon’s Warriors?

            “I hate myself,” she whispered. “I’m so selfish, caring only about my problems when my friends—or people who I should be friends with—need help. And when I help them, am I doing it for them or to make myself feel better?”

            “Tempest Twist!”

            The attack came from right behind her, as Kazemon unleashed a barrage of kicks on the tree Chiaki was hiding behind. She just managed to run out of the way before it fell.

            There’s no way I can outrun her, she realized. And who knows how long it’ll take before the others find me? They don’t even know where I washed up.

            Kazemon came flying at her, but a jet of hot water and steam burst out of the ground, burning her and forcing her to land without attacking. Chiaki stared at the sudden geyser in surprise as the Spirit of Water appeared. She reached in her pocket for her waterlogged cell phone and watched it come back to life before changing into a green and light blue D-tector.

            Water wasn’t exactly the most forgiving element. It eroded stone, warped wood, and rusted steel. It drowned people and pulled them under with its currents. But at the same time, it also gave life. It was said that all life began in the seas and then slowly moved its way to land. Water could nurture and protect sometimes. So too could she.

            Chiaki held up her D-tector and accepted the Spirit. She thought she saw a Digimon that looked like some kind of water sprite walk toward her and pass right through, but Kazemon had returned to attack. She jumped back with agility she didn’t know she had and formed a Fractal Code ring around her hand before scanning it through her D-tector.

            “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            Very little armor formed around her, giving her a swimsuit, bracers, and a sort of helmet instead. Green skin formed over her own, sacrificing durability for speed in water. She held her hand up to the Fractal Code dome around her, letting it drop like a waterfall as she shouted her name:

            “Ranamon!”

            Kazemon gave her a disdainful look. “So now you’ve got a Spirit too. Trying to even the odds?”

            “Zoë, I’m not going to fight you,” Ranamon answered calmly.

            “So now you care?” Kazemon asked. “You didn’t back in the human world.”

            “I know, and I hate what I did back there,” she replied. “I hurt you by not standing up for you, and I’m sorry. But you can’t let Ophanimon warp you like this.”

            “Lady Ophanimon hasn’t warped me!” Kazemon defended. “She showed me the way to defend myself against people like you!”

            “She’s only using you to destroy the Digital World for her,” Ranamon reasoned. “You’re doing just the same thing I did: denying yourself by following someone who doesn’t care about you, just what you can give them.”

            “Hurricane Wave!” Kazemon shouted.

            The blast of air came straight at Ranamon, but she leapt high to avoid it, landing lightly on her feet. She looked at Kazemon and insisted, “Please listen to me. What I did was wrong, and I can’t ever excuse it. I also can’t excuse Amaya and Ran, but you can’t let yourself hate them like this.”

            “Everything’s always perfect for you, isn’t it?” Kazemon spat, releasing another wind attack. Again, Ranamon dodged but did not return fire. “A star in chorus, popular with the other girls… You never have to deal with loneliness or anything!” Yet another wind attack came, blowing up dirt and leaves. Ranamon wasn’t able to completely escape it this time, and a sharp edge of a rock left a shallow cut against her cheek.

            She’s not listening, she thought. I need to get her to stop attacking before she destroys everything here. She clapped her hands together, summoning a rain-cloud over Kazemon’s head. “Draining Rain!” The water started to sap her power immediately.

            “Going back on your word?” Kazemon asked. “I should have expected it.”

            “I’m just trying to get you to calm down,” Ranamon answered. “Sometimes, I need to get a little forceful.”

            “It’s not enough,” Kazemon said, preparing another Hurricane Wave.

            “Whipping Waves!” Ranamon replied, summoning water from the small geysers and the river.

            A large wave formed and swept through the destroyed forest, collecting small debris such as leaves and twigs. With her wings drenched from the Draining Rain, Kazemon couldn’t fly out of its way and was swept up with the flow as well, following it back to the river. Ranamon ran over to be sure she was all right. She scanned over the water, worried that she’d gone too far in trying to hold her off. But Kazemon’s head popped out of the water, and she reached over for a fallen log to hold into while the river carried her away. The look she gave Ranamon was venomous.

            Once Kazemon was too far away to see, Chiaki devolved and sat down, taking out her handkerchief and her D-tector, fiddling with both while she waited for the others. She really didn’t feel like doing anything else.

            It was some minutes later when the others came, looking just as muddy and wet as she was. They stared around at the rampant destruction in shock, momentarily at a loss for words.

            “Zoë showed up,” she explained. “She’s gone now.”

            “Are you okay?” Teruo checked.

            “A little cut up,” she admitted, wiping the blood away from her cheek. “But she didn’t hit me too bad.”

            “What happened?” Katsuharu asked.

            “I managed to find my Spirit, but I didn’t want to fight back, so I swept her downstream,” she explained. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t manage to keep the guilt out of her voice. It felt like it was choking her.

            “Should we get going?” Teppei asked Katsuharu, who could only shrug.

            “I guess,” he finally admitted. “It looks like the rain’s letting up, so we can take a break when we find a village or something.”

            So they continued their journey in the rain, trudging through mud puddles and avoiding the occasional geyser. All were fairly silent and uncomfortable. Katsuharu and Teppei walked ahead while Chiaki, Teruo, and Koichi trailed a little farther behind. She was again sneezing and wiping her nose on her handkerchief, and they glanced at her from time to time, as if waiting for her to say something.

            Finally, Teruo said, “You know, it was hard fighting Takuya that first time. He was my friend and I looked up to him. Everything he said hurt, but I kept reminding myself that it wasn’t really him talking. It was just Ophanimon’s spell that was making those words come out. And even if he thought it a little bit, I knew my own worth.”

            “Thanks,” she answered, “but that still doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t help her when I should have.”

            “It’s funny,” Koichi said. “We’re so ready to forgive everyone else, but we have a hard time forgiving ourselves.”

            “Yeah, I guess so,” Teruo agreed. “Teppei and Katsuharu blame themselves for Tommy.”

            “I think as long as we try to make the same mistakes again, everything should be all right again,” Koichi continued. “We can’t try too hard to make up for our mistakes, but learning from them is different.”

            “Thanks, guys,” Chiaki replied. “What you said makes a lot of sense.” Then, with a smile, she added, “I’d hug you, but I don’t want to get either of you sick.”

            They walked in silence again for several minutes before Teruo pointed out, “We’re pretty much done with the tougher battles, now that Zoë’s shown up.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed. “All that’s left is Koji, and Koichi only fights him by default.”

            Neither Chiaki nor Teruo missed the discomfort on Koichi’s face before he added, “But my Spirit’s too dangerous to use.”

            “Maybe you’ll get lucky and you won’t have to fight him at all,” Teppei suggested. “I mean, he hasn’t shown up yet, and you don’t even know each other, so he’s got no reason to want to fight you.”

            “And he doesn’t have a reason like J.P. about fighting in defense of someone else,” Katsuharu added. “Koichi’s a complete stranger to all of them.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi murmured, looking down at the ground. It was clear to everyone that he was not looking forward to the eventual confrontation.

            “But first we have to get to Forest Terminal,” Chiaki pointed out, navigating the conversation to a safer topic.

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed. “We’ll figure out what to do from there.”

            Koichi gave her a grateful look, and she shrugged in response. It wasn’t anything he needed to thank her for anyway. Things were going to be difficult for all of them, and she was determined to do her part in helping ease the burden.

 

The title comes from a line in Yuki Kajiura’s “Cynical World.” Ran and Amaya are names I created for two of the girls in Zoë’s flashback in episode twenty-six, the friendly girl and the mean-spirited one we couldn’t see respectively. As always, thanks to Ryan for all the help.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Five: “Inner Demon”

            He stood on the platform, waiting impatiently for the others to arrive. It had been three days since they called him to say they would be late. He hadn’t minded then because he needed the practice, but now he was annoyed. He’d been here for several hours now. Why hadn’t they shown up?

            Finally, as if summoned by his thoughts, they appeared through the fog, waving. They climbed up to the platform, looking somewhat tired and bruised.

            “You’re late,” he growled.

            “Give us a break, Koji,” Takuya groaned. “We had some trouble getting here—Cherubimon’s Warriors.”

            “They all have Spirits now,” J.P. said.

            “So did you find it?” Tommy asked. Koji nodded and held up his D-tector.

            “Good,” Takuya answered. “That’ll make things a lot easier for us.”

            “I’m not going to use it just yet,” Koji argued.

            “Why not?” Takuya asked, irritated.

            “There’s no need to yet,” he explained. “One of them hasn’t even evolved yet. If they don’t need to know I have a Beast Spirit, then I don’t want them to.”

            “Yeah, that sounds good,” J.P. agreed. “That way you can throw them off-guard.”

            “Exactly,” Koji replied. “It’ll also give you guys time to find yours, and if we keep holding back until we absolutely need to, they won’t be able to look for theirs.”

            “Okay,” Takuya relented. “But now we need to concentrate on freeing Lord Seraphimon. Cherubimon’s Warriors are still behind us since J.P. injured one of them, but we need to get moving.”

            “What about that last one, the Warrior of Darkness?” Zoë asked. “Sooner or later, he’s going to evolve.”

            “Sounds like he’s going to be your opponent,” J.P. told Koji, who nodded. “You sure you don’t know him?”

            “Not at all,” he answered. “But it doesn’t matter. He’s in our way, so I’ll take care of him.”

            “Then let’s get going,” Takuya decided. “We’ll handle the Warriors when we run into them.” The others nodded in agreement and followed him toward the castle.

            When Cherubimon’s Warriors arrived there less than half an hour later, none of them could shake the feeling that something was wrong.

            “They were here,” Koichi realized.

            “Yeah, I think I found the footprints,” Teppei said, pointing out a mess of sneaker impressions in the dirt. “I’m not an expert or anything, but I guess it wasn’t too long ago they were here.”

            “Then we might stand a chance of catching up,” Katsuharu said. Frowning, he added, “Just wish our Digimon forms were faster. Teruo’s the only one who could probably get there fast enough, but he’d be on his own.”

            “We need to find a faster route,” Koichi said. “Or make them take a detour.”

            Katsuharu raised an eyebrow. “This isn’t going to involve knocking down or burning the trees, is it? Because this forest has taken enough damage as it is.”

            “Something to slow them down or help us catch up,” Koichi answered.

            Teppei stared at the area for a while, frowning in concentration. Then he closed his eyes and tried to tap into his earth sympathy as far as he could, feeling for any roots or anything that broke up the earth. Once he was sure he had a path, he pulled out his digivice.

            “What are you doing?” Chiaki asked.

            “Just trust me on this,” he answered. “Oh, and you’ll want to evolve too.” She shot him a confused look but pulled out her digivice anyway.

            Upon evolving, he looked once more at the ground before slamming his hammer down on top of the earth, creating a large crack. He smashed the ground again and again until he’d made a fairly long, shallow trench. Ranamon looked back at the others and shrugged. None of them had any clue what he was planning.

            “Okay, Chiaki, fill it up,” he requested.

            “Okay,” she answered, still baffled, snapping her fingers to create a small rain-cloud over the trench. With careful precision, she managed to get the cloud to rain out a heavy stream of water until it had completely filled the ditch. Once that was finished, she looked over at Grumblemon and asked, “Now what?”

            “Now we just need something that’ll float and turn easily,” he answered.

            Katsuharu, Koichi, and Teruo nodded as they realized what he meant and started searching for fallen logs. Neemon, however, declared, “I’m confused. What’s the plan?”

            “The fastest way is by water,” Katsuharu answered. “With Chiaki’s Spirit, she can get us through Teppei’s stream faster than if we walked.”

            “I’m allowed to have a genius moment every once in a while,” Grumblemon said, grinning. “I’m just going to have to keep tunneling the farther we go, and since I don’t know ahead of time what we’ll need to steer away from, we need small boats.”

            “Anyone know how we can hollow this out?” Teruo asked, standing next to a log.

            “Looks like that’s your job,” Ranamon pointed out to Grumblemon, who sighed and pulled over his hammer.

            He held it by its head and struck it against the log, separating it into two long halves before breaking each into smaller halves. Then he started the long process of trying to hollow them out, muttering, “It’d be easier if we had someone with blades.”

            Eventually, he managed to get the four small canoes finished and in the water. He took the first one so he could continue their path. Katsuharu and Bokomon took the second, since the latter complained about his book getting wet. The next boat was Teruo, followed by Koichi and Neemon in the last one. Ranamon would ride the waves.

            “Okay, everyone!” she cried. “Hold on tight. Whipping Waves!”

            Anyone who hadn’t been gripping the sides of the canoes for dear life started to the second the waves picked up. It was like riding in a motorboat, only the water itself was propelling them. Every so often, Grumblemon would shout a directional change, and Ranamon would lower the speed a bit so no one would be thrown overboard. The only other times they slowed down or stopped were when a new path needed to be carved, but then they’d go back to their fast speed again. It was hardly a gentle ride with the boats knocking into each other and the rough waves, and Katsuharu groaned loudly when Bokomon threw up. But aside from that, the others had to admit it was fun.

            “I think we just invented the Digital World’s first thrill ride!” Teruo cried as Neemon waved his arms in excitement.

            “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this before,” Katsuharu said. “This would have cut so much time off our trip.”

            “How close are we?” Koichi asked.

            “We’ll probably be there in a da—” Katsuharu stopped suddenly, hearing something. “Incoming!”

            Ranamon pulled her wave over them as a shield as electrical and fire attacks came down on them from the trees. Steam and separated gases rose up from the shield, so she had to let it go. But Teruo and Katsuharu had their D-tectors out and in almost synchronized movements, evolved.

            The four leapt out of the river, battle ready, as all five of Ophanimon’s Warriors leapt out of the trees. It was the first time all five had been in the same place together, so Cherubimon’s Warriors sized them up. Teruo was already starting to plan ahead how they would need to fight. There were four of them, and five of Ophanimon’s Warriors, so someone would have to take on two. Katsuharu had just healed from his injuries from Beetlemon, and Chiaki had just gotten over her cold, so they were out. It would have to be either he or Teppei who would double-up against Koji. Chiaki and Katsuharu were trying to get over their reluctance to fight Zoë and J.P., and Teppei readied himself for Tommy’s relentless attacks. Koichi, however, stood on the other side of the stream, staring in shock. He was somewhat aware of Bokomon and Neemon pulling on him, urging him to run, and he knew he had to look pale and scared. Then, to his horror, the Warrior of Light spotted him and held out one of his arms.

            “Howling Laser!”

            In a split-second, Mercurymon managed to block the laser, only to leave himself open to attack by Agunimon, who shouted, “Lobomon! Don’t waste your time on him!”

            The attack, while not achieving its intended effect, did manage to scare Koichi beyond anything he’d ever faced before. He didn’t realize he’d pulled out his D-tector until Bokomon and Neemon pulled him to the ground and it fell out of his hand.

            “Koichi, what are you doing?” Bokomon demanded. “We have to get out of here!”

            “Okay,” he agreed reluctantly, unsure of what else he could do.

            With the others running for cover, Cherubimon’s Warriors could attack freely. Arbormon fired the missile from his breastplate at Beetlemon and took advantage of the dust cover to get in a few good hits with his Roundhouse Punt. Ranamon weakened Kazemon’s attacks with her Draining Rain before hurling a wave of the remaining river water at her. With controlled swings, Grumblemon managed to deflect Kumamon’s snowballs in the direction of the other evil Warriors and followed it up with a powerful strike. And Mercurymon put his speed to the test, absorbing Agunimon’s attacks and firing them at Lobomon, and vice-versa.

            For a while, it seemed like they were winning. Ophanimon’s Warriors were taking hard hits, and it encouraged Cherubimon’s Warriors to keep at it. But then, just as Mercurymon reflected a Pyro Punch at Lobomon, it all changed. Anticipating the attack, Lobomon leapt over it with agility no one had expected him to have with such heavy armor. As he fell back to the ground, he pulled two light-swords out of a holder on his back and activated them with a shout of “Lobo Kendo!” and brought them down on Mercurymon’s right arm. Mercurymon dropped his right shield out of shock and pain, leaving himself open to Agunimon’s next attack. The Pyro Tornado kick was vicious enough to force Mercurymon to concentrate on blocking with his left shield and make him abandon the one he’d lost.

            Now that he had brought the odds closer to Agunimon’s favor, Lobomon moved on to the others. He connected his swords into a staff and struck at Ranamon’s ankle, causing a light but painful burn on impact as it knocked her off her feet. Kazemon took the opportunity to switch to a different attack, Tempest Twist, hitting Ranamon repeatedly with powerful kicks. It was only then that Ranamon realized Kazemon had been saving her physical strength for this. The whole thing had been planned ahead of time, and Cherubimon’s Warriors walked right into the trap. Realizing this, Grumblemon and Arbormon tried to change tactics, but Kumamon, Beetlemon, and Lobomon changed their plans of attack faster. Arbormon got a full-on blast of Crystal Breeze that Beetlemon decided to take advantage of. Arbormon quickly drew his arms over his chest to protect his solar plexus, but a strike of Thunder Blitz brought him to his knees anyway. Grumblemon found he was far too slow to hit Lobomon, who leapt out of the way every time. By the time he finally was within range, Lobomon was able to kick the hammer out of Grumblemon’s hands. Kumamon returned from his attack on Arbormon to strike Grumblemon in the back with his Frozen Tundra.

            “They’re getting killed,” Koichi noticed. “He’s too good.”

            “Yes,” Bokomon confessed. “Koji always did fight with his brain, I’m afraid.”

            The black and grey D-tector was back in Koichi’s hand, and his grip on it tightened as he heard this. He’d promised not to use the Spirit, but his friends needed his help. And in any case, he’d made another promise, one that was far more important.

            “Bokomon, Neemon, do me a favor,” he requested.

            “What is it?” Bokomon asked.

            “Run.”

            He raised his arm into the air, and a circle of Fractal Code formed around his hand. But Bokomon noticed that unlike the others’, this data ring was dark-colored and riddled with gaps and small holes, thoroughly corrupted. Suddenly, running away sounded like a great idea. He and Neemon took cover in the wet trench as Koichi’s terrible and terrified shout rang out:

            “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            Darkness was not only the opposite of light; it was the absence of it. The shadows hid so many horrible things from the eyes of man, keeping him blind until such shadow-lovers struck. People feared it for good reason—what you couldn’t see could hurt you, and there was no way to fight back against it. But Koichi tried to remind himself that the darkness served some good too, providing night so living things could rest and heal. It provided shade, a defense when the light became blinding and blistering. It could give protection, and he would try his hardest to do the same.

            But the evolution was painful, and he screamed in agony as the Spirit tried to impose its will on him. It felt as though his heart and mind were being torn open, forced to spill their contents everywhere until the Spirit could find some darkness to latch onto and feed. Every dark emotion he’d tried to suppress came forward in a rush, and it would have forced him to his knees if he wasn’t locked in place by his Spirit’s darkness. It was a battle between his heart and his Spirit’s consciousness, and he was afraid he was losing. The Spirit forced him as far back as it could manage, but he fought his way forward as far as he could manage. When the demonic armor covered his body, he was somewhere in-between. Most of him was under the Spirit’s control, but he held onto a bit of himself to keep from hurting anyone he cared about. He repeated the word “remember” over and over in his mind as a mantra.

            A sword extended from each of his hands, and he crossed them and slashed open the Fractal Code prison, announcing his name to the Digital World:

            “Duskmon!”

            The eyes on his armor scanned the battle, searching for the most immediate threat. Once he saw Beetlemon ready to deliver another blow to Arbormon, all of his eyes started to gather red energy, as did his hands. With a cry of “Deadly Gaze!” he fired the rays, throwing Beetlemon to the ground.

            Arbormon got to his feet and stared at his fallen adversary in shock. As Duskmon came over, Arbormon asked, “Think maybe you overdid it a little?”

            “Hardly,” Duskmon answered in a flat, almost disappointed voice. Katsuharu inwardly shivered as Duskmon extended his swords and moved on to the other evil Warriors.

            There was no way this could be Koichi. They’d only known him for a week, but they knew him well enough to see the drastic difference between the human and the Digimon. Koichi had a bit of a silly side, sometimes. He joined in on the laughing and the joking, even bantering with Teppei by matching sarcasm with sarcasm. He was serious when the situation merited it, such as a battle or if something bothered him or one of the others. He was also determined to protect the people he cared about. But Duskmon didn’t seem to care. He was singly focused on the battle, at the cost of everything—and everyone—else. It was chilling, and somehow, Katsuharu couldn’t help but think they stood a better chance of survival if Koichi hadn’t evolved.

            “That’s the Spirit of Darkness?” Grumblemon asked as Kumamon fell to another Deadly Gaze. “No wonder Koichi hates evolving into him.”

            “Yeah,” Arbormon agreed. “Take over so he doesn’t kill Tommy.”

            “Good plan,” Grumblemon replied. “I just hope he doesn’t decide to kill me instead.”

            Teppei had no idea how he was going to interrupt Duskmon and not get killed. He grabbed his hammer and headed over, trying his hardest to think of a safe way to say, “I’ll take over fighting Tommy so you don’t kill the kid” when Lobomon fired his laser. The eyes on Duskmon’s shoulders caught the movement, and he quickly dodged, causing the attack to stray and hit Kumamon. Duskmon extended his swords once more and ran toward Lobomon while Teppei silently thanked his dumb luck.

            Both the Warriors of Darkness and Light stared at each other silently, holding their swords at their sides in almost a perfect reflection of each other. Koichi managed to steal more control away from the Spirit, just enough to ask, “Are you Koji Minamoto?”

            “Why do you care?”

            “That’s all I needed to know,” he answered. The redirecting question had been enough of an answer for him. He’d managed to hear enough of that while trailing Koji in the human world. He was positive that this was him.

            They crossed their swords at almost the exact same time and charged, but other than that, their fighting styles were entirely different. Duskmon’s style was purely destructive with slashes and hacks. His attack pattern tended to be predictable, as he constantly went for the same targets over and over. Lobomon, on the other hand, treated his swords as an extension of his own arms. Paired with his agility, it allowed for sweeping attacks that were far harder to predict. He could start attacking in one direction and then spin around and attack in another. His swords were treated as two halves of a single weapon, completely the opposite of how Duskmon treated his.

            Duskmon was stronger, putting Lobomon on the defensive. But anyone who had the luxury of watching the battle could see that Duskmon was going to lose. No matter how much raw power he had, he wasted it on aggressive slashes. And Koichi knew it. He tried to rein it all in, his frustration, grief, and anger, but the Spirit kept drawing it back out again. He tried whatever he could to try and bring the odds into his favor, but nothing seemed to work. Even with his limited control over this form, he felt clumsy with the swords. He tried to mimic some of Koji’s techniques, but they were easily defeated like the pale imitations they were. It frustrated him, and that only fueled the darkness.

            His own darkness whispered in the back of his mind, reminding him of how much he’d already lost and what he stood to lose. His grandmother had been on her deathbed when she gave him the truth that shattered his world, and those truly had been her last words to him. His mother was sick with a different illness, one just as much in spirit as it was in body, while trying hard to provide Koichi with everything he needed. And now, there was this. The Spirit offered to lessen the pain so long as he gave in completely, but he steadfastly ignored it and the pounding in his head that followed. He was not going to lose himself now.

            Lobomon leapt up and twisted around in midair, but Duskmon stabbed one of his swords into his scarf, pinning him against a tree. The Spirit was trying to poison him again, reminding him of how good Koji had it—a mom, a dad, a pet dog—while Koichi had to watch his mother grow more and more depressed each day. He shut his eyes and stopped concentrating on the images from his armor’s extra eyes in order to fight the influence. This was the chance Lobomon needed to fire his Howling Laser right into Duskmon’s central eye. He was forced to pull back as that eye lost its vision.

            A reflected fire blast nearly hit Lobomon, but he ducked out of the way in time. Able to take a small break from his battle, Mercurymon asked, “Koichi, are you okay?”

            “Too close,” he murmured, regaining sight in all his other eyes. There was still a massive gap in his visual field, however, and his other eyes tried to compensate for it. He wasn’t going to be able to use his Deadly Gaze, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have anything else left. He raised one sword in the air and left one pointing to the ground before moving them both in a counterclockwise motion, generating a field of red energy. He shouted, “Lunar Plasma!” and waited within the energy, absorbing what he could. But the added power only lessened Koichi’s careful hold over himself, making him nearly lose all control.

            Lobomon was wary of the red moon of energy, but as long as it didn’t do anything, he thought he might be all right to move on to fighting someone else if he kept his guard up. He was about to help Agunimon again when suddenly the red moon exploded and Duskmon came flying out of it in a blur, striking hard. Lobomon raised his swords in an attempt to block, but for once, he was too slow. The attacks struck him over and over, leaving him breathless on the ground, and barely able to maintain his evolution. This was it. After having such a strong advantage the whole battle, he was going to lose.

            Duskmon stood over him, swords at his neck, and he couldn’t fight back. He felt them cutting past his scarf to his flesh when suddenly, Duskmon froze. Koichi hadn’t even had to regain control for his memories to interfere with Duskmon’s rage. He no longer saw a faceless adversary; he saw someone he’d wanted to meet for so long now, and the fear over what he could have done held him back. His head began to ache violently, as if it had been split open, and he retracted his swords and brought his hands to the sides of his head. With Duskmon unable to concentrate, Lobomon once again had the advantage and fired his laser right at his head, throwing him to the ground. While Duskmon was prone, Lobomon recovered and picked up his fallen swords, racing toward his opponent.

            Duskmon tried to fight back, but he was not intended for defensive fighting. The fact that Koichi held many inhibitions about actively trying to hurt his opponents didn’t help at all. Essentially, the more Koichi fought off the Spirit’s influence, the weaker he was in combat. In contrast, sanity was sacrificed for strength when Koichi could no longer resist. But this was a battle Koichi could afford neither to lose nor lose his mind over, and he’d slipped enough already. He had to save Koji, but he couldn’t lose control or there would be no point. It was a lose-lose situation.

            Koji, however, either had no reservations or didn’t let them bother him. He exploited every weakness he saw and attacked mercilessly. Even when Duskmon managed to knock one of the swords from his hand, he fought back as if he’d only ever been using one. He ducked away from swipes and dodged jabs like an expert before sweeping his sword around and twisting Duskmon’s left arm around. He smirked at the shout of pain and blocked an attack from the right, taking the opportunity to fire his laser again.

            It missed, but it didn’t matter anyway. Koichi felt the Spirit’s uncontrollable power surging with each mistake he made. The frustration turned to anger, the anger to rage, and the rage to darkness. He could see that his friends had managed to hold off Ophanimon’s Warriors well enough to see that something was wrong with him, so he shouted, “Attack from behind!”

            The order was somewhat vague, but the others caught on anyway. Ranamon sent forth a stream of Draining Rain, and Mercurymon deflected one of Agunimon’s stronger fire attacks to Duskmon’s back. While he was weakened, Arbormon and Grumblemon finished the job with physical attacks. As Koichi devolved, Arbormon caught him with one of his detachable arms and pulled him over. He was barely conscious, and it looked like tears were running down his face.

            “Come on,” Arbormon whispered. “This is no time to pass out.”

            “You’re making this too easy,” Lobomon declared, firing his laser. But Mercurymon appeared in front of it and reflected it right back at him. Lobomon grunted in pain as it hit his side, and the sound seemed to jar Koichi to a state of semi-alertness.

            “Brother,” he called out suddenly.

            “What the—” Arbormon started, but Ranamon cried, “Down!” He dropped to the ground as gently as he could manage in such a short amount of time, shielding Koichi as Ranamon manipulated a wave into a stream and blasted it at Lobomon. Mercurymon held up his left shield to protect himself.

            When the water receded, Lobomon had recovered both of his swords and was ready to fight back. However, so too were Cherubimon’s Warriors. They were staring at him with a vengeance. As team strategist, it was Koji’s job to analyze a situation, find patterns, and determine the best plan of attack. He’d already figured this one out: Take down one of theirs, and they would return the favor tenfold. The fact that Kumamon, Kazemon, and Beetlemon were in no condition to continue fighting was testament to that.

            “Takuya, we need to go,” he decided.

            “We took one of them down already!” Agunimon argued.

            “If you want to keep on fighting, go ahead,” Arbormon dared. “We’re just as strong as a quartet as we are as a team of five.”

            “He’s right,” Beetlemon agreed. “We need to go now.”

            “Fine,” Agunimon relented.

            Cherubimon’s Warriors glared daggers at Ophanimon’s Warriors as they made their retreat. Once he was sure the danger was gone, Katsuharu devolved and checked Koichi. He didn’t appear to be hurt, but he was unconscious and pale.

            “How bad is he?” Mercurymon asked.

            “Not sure,” Katsuharu answered. “Chiaki, you’re the fastest. See if you can find a village or something.”

            “Got it,” Ranamon replied, leaping for the trees.

            Teppei and Teruo devolved as Bokomon and Neemon emerged from their hiding place. Katsuharu started to try and move Koichi, but Teruo stopped him.

            “Are you sure you should be moving him?” he asked.

            “Why?” Katsuharu questioned. “Could it hurt him worse?”

            “Maybe,” Teruo admitted. “Give me a second to check for broken bones.”

            “Okay then,” Katsuharu said.

            Teruo knelt at Koichi’s side and gently checked his arms, legs, and torso for anything that felt wrong. He’d learned enough first aid from his parents worrying over him falling in the park to know what to do. Then he felt along the back of Koichi’s neck to be sure there wasn’t a break. When he was satisfied, he said, “Okay. I think it’s safe.”

            “What’s wrong with your wrist?” Teppei asked, seeing how little Teruo had moved his right hand.

            “I think I sprained it,” he confessed. “Lobomon hit me with his sword. I’ll be okay. My Spirit helps me heal fast.”

            Ranamon gently leapt down from a tree, and Katsuharu noticed she avoided putting pressure on her right ankle. Devolving, she said, “There’s a small restaurant not too far from here. There doesn’t seem to be much else around, but there is someone in there. Maybe he can help.”

            “All right,” Katsuharu decided. “Teppei, come over here and help me carry Koichi.”

            “I can help,” Teruo insisted. “I’m taller than Teppei anyway; it’d be easier.”

            “You said yourself that you hurt your hand,” Katsuharu answered. “If you need to help someone, help Chiaki. She’s limping anyway.” She looked a little pink at this, as if she was hoping no one would catch on. “Come on, guys. Let’s go.”

 

Much of the battle was inspired by a mix of Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Kingdom Hearts games. Koji’s swordplay especially takes from Avatar, heavily inspired by Zuko’s skills with twin Chinese broadswords. Thanks to Ryan Griffin for help throughout.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Six: “Brothers”

            Somewhere near the Forest Terminal, there was a small soba shop run by a lone Deramon. It was hardly a popular place, and the quality of the food was so bad that only the truly desperate would choose to eat there. But Cherubimon’s Warriors were truly desperate, and so they sat at the counter with bowls of noodles in front of them. But only four of the humans were eating; their fifth was lying on a mat in the kitchen, still unconscious after four days.

            “When he said he passed out afterwards, I didn’t think he meant he’d be out for days,” Teppei said. He swallowed a mouthful of soba and made a face. He and Chiaki had taken over the kitchen the whole time, trying to make the soup edible. Most of their experiments worked to some degree. This one must have been from the old batch.

            “How long do you think it’ll be before he wakes up?” Chiaki asked. She had already had to try and force-feed Koichi water several times over the past few days, worried that he’d dehydrate.

            “You think there’s a chance we can contact Cherubimon?” Teruo suggested. “He might know something. I mean, Koichi said he evolved a few times in the past, so maybe Cherubimon knows what we’re supposed to do.”

            “Face it, Teruo,” Teppei said solemnly, “you can’t ever contact the mysterious benefactor. He always contacts you.”

            “Good point,” Teruo admitted glumly.

            “I just want to know what Koichi meant when he said ‘brother,’” Katsuharu answered. “He didn’t say anything about having one, remember?” The others shook their heads.

            “Although,” Chiaki interrupted, “when I was talking to him about his grandmother, he did say something in a weird way. I didn’t think too much of it when he said it since he was freaked out over his dream. He told me that his mother didn’t have any other relatives, but he started to say that he didn’t before he caught himself.”

            “Could they be related?” Teruo asked after a brief silence. “Koichi and Koji, I mean.”

            “Wait, we’re going too fast here,” Teppei protested. “When Koichi said that, he was out of it from the evolution. And we hit him with some of our hardest attacks, so that could have done something. We also don’t know how that Spirit might have messed with his head.”

            “Katsuharu, everyone, come quick!” Bokomon cried.

            “He’s waking up!” Neemon added.

            They dropped their chopsticks in a hurry, but Katsuharu grabbed Teppei’s shoulder, signaling all of them to wait. “Don’t ask him anything,” he warned. “Let’s wait for him to recover first.”

            “Yeah,” Teruo agreed.

            In the kitchen, a ruffled Deramon had been muttering complaints about having his restaurant taken over by a bunch of freeloaders. While he couldn’t do much about an unconscious kid having to stay in the only place where he had room to lie down, Deramon could still glare at Koichi. He was in for quite a shock when suddenly Koichi moaned. Deramon squawked in surprise and jumped back, making Koichi wince at the noise and slowly open his eyes.

            After the sound, the first thing Koichi noticed was the smell of food cooking on the stove. This is the second time I’ve woken up in a kitchen, he thought and nearly laughed, but it made his head hurt. He moaned again and brought his hand to the side of his head, this time catching Bokomon and Neemon’s attention. They called for the others, and Koichi carefully pulled himself to a sitting position. Chiaki went over to a pot on the stove and spooned out a bowl of noodles and broth.

            “How are you feeling?” Teruo asked.

            “Awful,” Koichi admitted. “How long have I been out?”

            “Four days,” Katsuharu answered. “We were worried.”

            “Sorry,” he apologized.

            “Does this happen every time?” Teppei asked.

            “Yeah. The more I try to fight the Spirit, the worse the strain on my body.”

            Chiaki brought over the bowl of soba and a pair of chopsticks. “Here. You’re going to need to build up your strength.”

            “What happened while I was out?” Koichi asked, blowing on a scoop of noodles.

            “Other than Teppei getting sick on some bad cabbage yesterday and hallucinating into the night, nothing,” she answered. Koichi, about to eat the noodles, gave her a worried look. “But don’t worry. We got rid of anything that didn’t look like it was fresh.”

            “Those mushrooms probably would have been okay,” Katsuharu said. “I ate them fine.”

            “They still seemed kind of sketchy,” Chiaki admitted.

            “Plus you have some kind of immunity to poison,” Teppei pointed out. “You ate the same cabbage and didn’t get sick.”

            Katsuharu shrugged. “Elemental sympathy. That immunity probably only carries over to plant poisons.”

            “How did the battle go?” Koichi asked.

            The others looked at each other in concern before Katsuharu asked, “You don’t remember?”

            “I do, but it’s all a huge blur,” he confessed. “I don’t know if what I remember really happened or if it’s just a dream. I had a hard time controlling the Spirit.”

            Katsuharu went silent, trying to think of a way to describe everything while side-stepping that crucial question he was saving for later. Ironically, it was Teppei, the man of no tact, who figured it out best:

            “You want us to reassure you or tell you everything straight?”

            “The truth, please.”

            “Okay, but you asked for it,” Teppei answered. “You beat the hell out of them. Nobody’s dead, but you went too far. I’m shocked Tommy could even walk after the beating you gave him. And then you used that one attack on Koji—granted, he had it coming, but still…”

            Shocked by the depiction and the accompanying memories, Koichi dropped the bowl. It shattered, spilling hot soup everywhere, but he hardly seemed to notice. He hid his face with his hands and took in shallow breaths. Katsuharu took the opportunity to hit Teppei.

            “I tried to kill him,” Koichi murmured. “How could I let it go that far?”

            “You pulled back at the last minute,” Teruo reminded him. “You realized what you were doing and pulled back before you could do it.”

            Koichi hardly looked relieved. He remained completely still in his shocked position. Katsuharu couldn’t take it anymore and said, “We’ll leave you alone for now. Just rest and build up your strength,” before leading the others out. He wasn’t sure if this would make it easier or harder to ask that question later.

            ~~~

            In another part of the Forest Kingdom, Ophanimon’s Warriors redressed their wounds. Tommy was trying his hardest not to cry as Zoë changed the bandages on his burns. Duskmon’s energy beams had left splotchy, red, peeling burns all over his small body, and they hurt like nothing he’d ever felt before. Koji was scratched up from the swordfight and occasionally checked his neck to be sure the faint cuts there hadn’t started bleeding. Takuya, meanwhile, was bruised from only hitting steel shields every time he attacked.

            “Guess we should have realized the Warrior of Darkness didn’t evolve for a reason,” J.P. commented. His thick armor had defended him well against almost everything, but even he was a little sore.

            “Next time, I won’t underestimate him,” Koji promised.

            “Next time, we’re going to have Lord Seraphimon to help,” Takuya reminded him.

            “There,” Zoë declared, finishing with the bandages. “That should feel a little better.”

            It did, but Tommy sulked as he pulled his shirt back on. “I can’t believe Teppei went easy on me after I fought Duskmon. I’m not the crybaby he thinks I am.”

            “At least the Warrior of Darkness passed out afterwards,” Takuya pointed out. “So long as he’s unconscious, we can catch up.”

            “Yeah, but that won’t last forever,” J.P. said.

            “It’s still something,” Takuya insisted. “Koji, you were right there. What happened?”

            “The others hit him just as hard as they hit us,” he replied. “They probably expected it, but they definitely didn’t expect him to be delirious or unconscious.”

            “Delirious?” Tommy repeated.

            “Yeah,” Koji answered. “Somehow, he thought I was his brother when I took that attack.”

            “But you’re an only child, right?” Takuya checked, an eyebrow raised.

            “Of course I am,” Koji replied indignantly. “My dad and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I think he’d tell me if I had any siblings.” Then he smirked. “Though it’ll be interesting finding out why the Warrior of Darkness is so bothered about memories of his brother. I can at least throw him off-guard.”

            “That’ll help,” Takuya decided. “Just watch out. He’s insane.”

            “Don’t worry about me,” Koji answered. “I’m not trying to get killed.”

            “So what now?” Zoë asked. “Do we head to Lord Seraphimon’s castle?”

            Takuya wanted to more than anything else. With Lord Seraphimon’s help, they would be able to quickly take out Cherubimon’s Warriors without having to worry. They would be able to continue scanning the Digital World for Lady Ophanimon without interference. And yet, they were in no shape to continue right now. Three of them had been outright attacked by Duskmon, and the other two had been weakened against the other Warriors.

            “We’ll wait,” he said. “We need the rest. There’s no point in fighting Cherubimon’s Warriors until we’re back up to full strength.” The others nodded in agreement. “Just one more day, and then we’ll head out.” And when they did, they were going to get some very sweet payback.

            ~~~

            It was a few hours later when Koichi was feeling well enough to walk around. He was still fairly weak physically, but he was recovering well. He sat at the counter with the others, an empty bowl in front of him. Deramon, while upset, took the bowl without a word, hurrying to the kitchen when Chiaki glared at him.

            “Okay, what exactly is going on?” Koichi asked. Teppei burst out laughing, and Katsuharu grinned.

            “You see, when we first got here, Deramon wasn’t all that happy that we needed to stay here and couldn’t pay,” Katsuharu explained.

            “He agreed anyway, once we explained everything,” Teruo added. “He started making some soba and brought it out, but it wasn’t that good.”

            “Man, is that an understatement!” Teppei declared. “No one would have eaten that junk. I wouldn’t even use it as a weapon—it’d fall under torture! So when we told him just how bad it was, he started getting mad, and that only set Chiaki off…”

            “You say that like I’m a time bomb,” she interrupted.

            “She started yelling at him and threw him out of the kitchen, yelling at us to come in and help her cook,” Katsuharu continued, cracking up. Koichi had started laughing too. “The whole place was a mess, and half the food looked rotten or just plain bad. So we threw it all out and started from scratch.”

            “And then after we make some good soba, she thrusts it in Deramon’s face, tells him to eat it, and shares the recipe so he can actually get some customers once in a while,” Teppei added. “I’ve never seen anyone get as mad as he did, but he didn’t dare argue so long as she was glaring at him.”

            Koichi was still laughing, looking more relaxed than he had been since they’d first met him. But now was the moment of truth, and that meant he would stop laughing, stop looking like an ordinary sixth-grade kid without a care in the world. Katsuharu felt like a louse for doing it, but he knew he had to. One day, he’d have to ask Teruo if he’d ever read anything that mentioned just how tough it was being the hero because he’d never gotten the memo.

            “So, Koichi, mind if I ask you something?” he asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.

            “Go ahead,” he replied.

            “When you devolved, you were pretty out of it,” he explained. “But you started to wake up when you heard Lobomon shout. Then you suddenly cried out, ‘Brother.’” Koichi’s eyes widened in shock; he apparently did not want any of them to know about this.

            “I forgot I said that,” he whispered. “I forgot…”

            “You forgot we were there?” Katsuharu guessed. “Why’d you say it?” Koichi refused to look at him, at any of them. “Look, I can’t make you tell the truth, but can you at least give us some answers for the team’s sake? As your friends?”

            Koichi was silent for a minute, but finally, and without raising his eyes from the counter, he said, “It was my grandma’s last wish. Mom and I went to the hospital when the doctor called to say she was taking a turn for the worst. He wanted us to say our goodbyes. I wanted to deny everything, make myself believe that she was going to get up and be all right again. But while I was in there, she told me that I needed to know I had a twin brother, Koji Minamoto.”

            The others stared in surprise. This didn’t happen in real life—just in fiction. Thinking of all the books he read, Teruo asked, “Separated at birth?”

            “When our parents got divorced. I’m not sure of the details—Mom doesn’t talk about my father at all. Mom took me, and our father took Koji. Grandma told me to look for him; so when I did, I started following him around, trying to build up the courage to tell him everything. But I couldn’t. Things seemed to be going so well for him—our father had remarried, and Koji had a great life. I could even hear guitar music playing when I walked past his house, so I guess he or someone in his family is a musician. I couldn’t take that away, but at the same time, I couldn’t just walk away. So when I saw him heading for the train station, I decided to try and talk to him then.”

            “Wait,” Teppei interrupted. “So you didn’t get the message?”

            “What message?” Koichi asked, looking up at him.

            “We all got text messages on our phones telling us to head to Shibuya,” Chiaki explained. “You didn’t get one?”

            “Oh, I guess that explains it,” he realized. “I don’t have a phone.”

            “Go on,” Katsuharu instructed as kindly as possible. This was really Chiaki’s forte, but he needed Koichi to tell them everything.

            Nodding, Koichi continued, “I followed him on the train, but I just couldn’t talk to him in front of everyone there. I figured that I’d wait until we got out at the station, and I’d pull him aside or something. But he got out before I did. I saw him heading for the elevator, so I ran for it, but someone jumped in before I could, and the doors slammed shut, and then…” He stopped suddenly, looking puzzled.

            “What is it?” Chiaki asked.

            “That’s funny,” he murmured. “I can’t seem to remember what happened next.” He tried to concentrate, but his head began to throb, and he grabbed the left side of his head with a cry of pain.

            “Whoa, take it easy!” Katsuharu cried. “We believe you. You don’t have to force yourself to remember if you can’t.”

            “I know I saw the elevator leave, and then I can’t remember anything until I woke up in the Digital World, bonded to the Spirit of Darkness,” he said. “I had a headache then too, so I couldn’t concentrate on how I got there.”

            “It’s okay,” Chiaki assured. “You’ll figure it all out eventually.”

            “Maybe the Spirit had something to do with it?” Teruo suggested. “You have such a hard time fighting it that maybe that first time you lost your memory.”

            Koichi looked at his D-tector in disgust. “I hate it. It’s taken so much away from me. I can’t even go back home because it’s keeping me here.”

            “You’re stuck here?” Teppei asked.

            He nodded. “And I don’t know why. I tried going home once, but I lost consciousness before the Trailmon could pass the barrier between worlds. Cherubimon had to call it back. I was out for a week.”

            “So why didn’t you tell us all this from the start?” Chiaki asked. “We could have come up with a better strategy to fight Koji.”

            “Things were bad enough,” he answered. “All Teruo had to say was that Takuya was his hero, and he and Teppei started fighting. If I’d said who Koji was to me, it would have split the team, and I didn’t want to do that. I wasn’t even sure if this was my brother.”

            Teppei, feeling guilty over starting the whole argument to begin with, asked, “But now you’re sure?”

            Koichi nodded. “When I asked him who he was, he didn’t answer the question. When I followed Koji in the human world, I heard him say similar things, trying to avoid answering a question he didn’t like. And when I fought him—right when I had my swords at his neck, I saw something.”

            “What?” Teruo asked.

            “It’s weird, but it was like I could see right through his Digimon form. I could see him, looking shocked and scared. It was the same person I saw in the human world, in the city and on the train. He looked just like me.”

            No one could seem to find it in himself or herself to say anything after that. What could be said? Koichi had a brother, a brother who very likely wanted him dead. Teruo’s hero wanted him dead. The same went for Chiaki’s classmate, Katsuharu’s classmate, and the kid Katsuharu and Teppei had bullied. They were all in the same boat, but this was different. This was blood. Koichi’s family was broken enough without Koji as one of Ophanimon’s Warriors. Now it was unbearable.

            “So where do we go from here?” Teruo asked.

            “The only place we can go,” Katsuharu replied. “To Seraphimon’s castle. It probably won’t solve a thing, but it’ll keep the others from releasing him and having both him and Ophanimon tearing apart the Digital World.”

            “And who wants to bet that once she’s got Seraphimon on her side, Ophanimon’s not going to need her Warriors anymore?” Teppei pointed out.

            “They probably don’t even realize it,” Chiaki murmured.

            “And after that, we find a way to save the others,” Teruo affirmed. “We need to break that spell.”

            “But that means we’re going to have to fight them a lot more,” Katsuharu reminded him. “Koichi, I understand if you don’t want to fight. And with that Spirit of yours, I’m not sure I want you to fight. But don’t think that we think any less of you.”

            “I know,” he answered, finally looking over to them. “I’m going to keep fighting. I know Koji less than you know the other Warriors, and even though this is worst way to get to know him, maybe I stand a chance of reasoning with him.” Katsuharu nodded. “I promised my grandma that I’d find him, and I can’t stop here. I’m not giving up. I promised myself.”

            “Okay, then,” Katsuharu agreed. “If you’re feeling up to it, we’ll set out in the morning. It shouldn’t take more than a day. And if we run into Koji and the others… Well, we’ll figure out what to do when we get there.” They all nodded. It was time to stop worrying about who they had to fight and time to start planning how they were going to win. They had to win, otherwise who would save their friends?

            Later, when everyone else went to bed early to get ready for whatever they’d find at Seraphimon’s castle, Koichi lay just outside the restaurant. With the leaf canopy, it was hard to see the sky, but what little he could see was comforting enough. Of all of them, he would have the toughest battle, and they all knew it. Sooner or later, he would have to find a way to tell Koji—his brother—everything. He couldn’t back out of it this time. He wasn’t sure how he was going to say it, but he strengthened his resolve each time he tried to think of something. It would be hard getting Koji to believe him—Koichi had a hard time dealing with the truth to begin with—but he would try. And after all was said and done, maybe he’d get the chance to get to know Koji, even if just as a casual acquaintance than as a brother.

            That thought hurt him more than he’d expected. His family had always been close, and when Grandma told him about Koji, suddenly that closeness had shattered. The absolute trust he had in his family was violated, and now he was searching for anything that could fix things. He was so ready to think of Koji as his brother that the sudden realization that it might not go both ways was disappointing.

            I’ll figure that out when I get there, he decided. First Seraphimon, then I can worry about how to save Koji and try and fix my family.

            He got up and headed back inside to sleep. He would just have to take things one step at a time, so now he would just get ready for that first step.

 

This chapter was heavily influenced by the song “Brothers” from Full Metal Alchemist, and the title is a reference. Thanks again to Ryan Griffin for suggestions and help.

As this chapter was the aftermath, it was going to be short. And don’t expect fast updates after this one; I’ve just hit my midterms, and I’m taking a small break from writing like a madwoman for now. The next arc will come as soon as I can get through my studies.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Seven: “Cruel Angel’s Thesis”

            It was early morning in the Forest Terminal when two completely opposite armies woke up and got ready for battle.

            Teruo would have liked to say they got up at the crack of dawn just because it sounded so much more dramatic, but in all honesty, the foliage was too dense for them to clearly see the sky. All they knew was that there was just enough light for them to see. Chiaki managed to persuade Deramon to give them some provisions for the road—a few bottles of water and some fresh vegetables wrapped in cloth napkins—and they all ate their last meal, barely able to hold in their anticipation. This would be their biggest battle yet and their first step to saving the world.

            “Everyone ready?” Katsuharu checked. He was met with six earnest nods. “Okay, then, we’ll—” He was cut off by sudden beeping from Koichi’s D-tector.

            Koichi pulled his D-tector out of his pocket and stared at the image on the screen in surprise. “It’s Cherubimon’s emblem,” he declared, and everyone quickly gathered around as he answered the call.

            “Koichi, are the others there?” asked a rumbling bass on the other end. It was the first time any of the others had heard the voice of their benefactor, and it was intimidating. If his voice was any indication, it was no wonder how he’d become one of the rulers of the Digital World.

            “Yes,” Koichi answered. “We’re all here.”

            Katsuharu managed to find his voice and said, “Katsuharu here. We’re just about to head to Seraphimon’s castle.”

            “Be careful,” Cherubimon warned them. “Seraphimon is powerful. I was badly injured when we fought.”

            “But shouldn’t he be too?” Teppei asked.

            “He has had time to heal while sealed in that crystal,” Cherubimon explained, “and his data is heavily corrupted. When I last met him, it was only his mind that had warped. Now, I have no doubt that his power will also be warped.”

            “We’d better set out now, then,” Katsuharu decided. “We’ll have a better chance of beating Ophanimon’s Warriors that way.”

            And so, like the heroes in so many fantasy novels, Cherubimon’s Warriors gathered their supplies and set out.

            And on nearly the other side of the forest, Ophanimon’s Warriors were also getting prepared for the same mission. But there was a marked difference: they had none of the anticipation or nervousness of their counterparts. Though the stakes were high, this was just another mission.

            “Warriors, are you ready?” Ophanimon asked over their D-tectors.

            “We’re all set,” Takuya affirmed. “We’re heading out now.”

            “Cherubimon’s Warriors will probably be ahead of you,” she warned. “But no matter—they’ll be stopped at the gate, and you can slip in while they’re distracted.”

            “What about the Warrior of Darkness?” Koji asked. “He was more trouble than I expected.”

            “He shouldn’t be a problem this time,” Ophanimon assured. “If you can, take him out quickly before he can lose control. If not, Seraphimon will deal with him.” There was a brief silence before she added, “There is some unfinished business between them, after all.”

            “We’ll contact you as soon as the mission is over,” Takuya promised. Then, turning to the others, he declared, “Now let’s go.”

            ~~~

            The journey started off without a hitch, but by late morning, a heavy fog had set in, making it hard for them to find their way back to the Terminal. Despite their near-blindness, Katsuharu and Teppei took the lead, relying on elemental sympathy to find a familiar path. Between the two of them, they all managed to find the Terminal.

            “Now that I think about it,” Teruo said suddenly, “this place looks familiar. Doesn’t this look like the station where we all first came?”

            “You know, I think you’re right,” Chiaki agreed. “I wasn’t sure how many stations would look alike here, but I think this is it.”

            “Well, we could always check for that piece of gum I spat out when we got here,” Teppei joked.

            “No wonder Ophanimon knew to send Angemon after you!” Bokomon declared. “She was sure to keep everyone else in the same place while her Warriors got their Spirits.”

            “But why right here?” Koichi asked. “It seems like too big a risk, especially since four of the children summoned were Warriors too. If you’d remembered this area, we would have been here faster.”

            “There were a lot of us on those Trailmon,” Teruo remembered. “And I wasn’t even on the same one as the others. Maybe Ophanimon didn’t know if one of her Warriors would have been on one of these trains instead of the ones stopping in the Village of Flames, and she wanted to be sure that one of them knew to come back here after finding a Spirit.”

            “I guess that makes sense,” Koichi decided.

            “Heads up, guys,” Katsuharu warned. “I think I found the way out of here, but it’s weird.”

            “How weird?” Chiaki asked.

            “A hollow tree-staircase,” Teppei answered. “That weird enough?”

            Katsuharu looked up the trunk at the spiral staircase and said, “Hope nobody’s scared of heights.” On cue, Bokomon and Neemon started clinging to Koichi and Teruo.

            None of them could deny that the climb was difficult. The steps weren’t steep, but there were many of them, and everyone hugged the sides of the trunk to avoid falling. A couple of times, they were forced to pause so Chiaki could rest her ankle or just to give everyone a breather. Koichi, in particular, was still fairly weak from the last battle, making the climb rather hard on him. About halfway up, they stopped to eat before finishing the rest of the climb. Of course, at the top, the air was still foggy, blinding them again. Katsuharu took the lead once more, following his compass. But after a while, they found that their path was blocked by several branches.

            “Okay, everyone, be careful,” Katsuharu warned. “It looks like we’re going to have to push our way through.” Yet, as soon as he said that, his D-tector started to shine, and the branches parted in front of them, revealing the path.

            “This should be a lot harder,” Teppei said.

            “It’s a trap,” Teruo decided.

            “We don’t really have much of a choice but to move on, though,” Katsuharu reminded them. “Just be ready.” And as he looked behind him, he could see that everyone now had a D-tector in hand, tightly gripped.

            They walked farther, trusting in Katsuharu to feel the way. He quietly warned them when more stairs came up, and they fought their hardest not to fall. The mist was thickest at the top, but the more they looked, the more they began to see the vague outline of a palace with sharp edges. And when they finally made it to stable ground, they could see it: a castle made entirely of glass or crystal, looking almost like it was in the clouds with all the fog. It was beautiful, yet still intimidating. They hadn’t, after all, forgotten who was sealed there.

            “Well, this is it,” Katsuharu said, looking up with the others. “We’d better get this over with.”

            “Yeah, since we’ve already done the hard part,” Teppei replied sarcastically. “Now, all we have to do is get in, destroy Seraphimon without waking him, and get out without getting killed by Ophanimon’s Warriors, who can’t be far behind.”

            “Crystal Barrage!”

            They only had the auditory warning to alert them to move before the ice attack hit the ground where they’d been standing a moment ago. Thinking it might be Tommy, Katsuharu and Teppei started to get ready to evolve before a voice called out, “Leave this place now! This is your only warning!”

            “Not gonna happen, pal,” Teppei answered. “Execute…” But another ice storm came right at him, and he only just ducked out of the way. Never before had he been so glad to be the shortest in his fifth grade class; he’d never thought it would save his life.

            “Wait!” Koichi called. “Cherubimon sent us. He wanted us to be sure that Ophanimon’s Warriors didn’t come here before we did and free Seraphimon.”

            There was a cynical laugh. “You really think I’m dumb enough to fall for that? The world must have gotten pretty pathetic in the past few years.”

            “It’s the truth!” Chiaki insisted. “We have the Spirits of his Warriors! We can show you if you don’t believe us.”

            “And risk getting killed by allowing you to evolve? Like your friend said, not gonna happen.” The fog parted, allowing them to see a mage-like Digimon brandishing a staff at them. Though they couldn’t see anything but his eyes because of his hat and high collar, they had the distinct impression he was smirking. “So they’re using humans. The world must be really pathetic now.”

            “Who are you?” Katsuharu demanded.

            “I’m Sorcermon, and I’ve been defending this area for longer than you could possibly imagine. When Cherubimon sealed Seraphimon, I was the only one left to make sure no one woke him.”

            “Cherubimon could have warned us about the gatekeeper,” Teppei muttered.

            “But we’re not going to wake him,” Teruo replied. “We’re just trying to protect the Digital World.”

            “I almost wish I could believe you,” Sorcermon said. “But face it, the world can’t be saved by a few humans.”

            “What about the Legendary Warriors then?” Chiaki demanded.

            Sorcermon snorted. “You think that’ll sway me? Try living for years without any contact from Cherubimon or Ophanimon. All you know is that one day, Seraphimon went insane and started trying to destroy the Digital World, and Cherubimon just came in and said Ophanimon had turned. Next thing you know, you’ve got a front-row seat to the brawl of the ages, and you’re stuck watching over a crazed ruler sealed in crystal. And all the while, you have no clue what’s going on. So the easiest answer is to protect the castle from any intruders. So get lost.” And with that, he twisted his staff so that its snowflake top was horizontal. Ice crystals formed in the air above it and fired at the kids.

            They scrambled for the nearby branches, hiding behind the leaves to avoid the ice. As they took cover, Bokomon flipped through his book to find anything that might help, but his efforts were in vain.

            “There’s nothing useful here on the castle!” he lamented. “All I can tell you is that Sorcermon is a powerful ice wizard.”

            “Yeah, think we figured that out for ourselves, thanks,” Teppei quipped.

            “We can’t fight him,” Koichi insisted. “It’ll only make us look like we’re against him.”

            “It’s not like talking’s going to do any better,” Teppei argued.

            “Maybe we can try,” Teruo insisted. “Watch my back.”

            “What are you—” Katsuharu demanded as Teruo walked out of the branches, his open palms in the air in the universal sign of surrender. Katsuharu palmed his forehead in disbelief.

            “Coming to face me unarmed?” Sorcermon noticed. “You must be stupider than I gave you credit for!”

            “We don’t want to fight,” Teruo reasoned. “We’re just here to destroy Seraphimon before Ophanimon’s Warriors can release him.”

            “You talk of killing so easily,” Sorcermon replied, smirking when Teruo flinched. “I guess you never thought of it that way. You’re too young to be doing this. Do yourself a favor and leave.”

            “I can’t,” Teruo insisted. “Please. Ophanimon brainwashed our friends and set them out to destroy the Digital World. And if they free Seraphimon, we’re afraid Ophanimon won’t have a reason to keep them around and she’ll kill them.”

            “Kid, you’ve got a good heart, but you’ve got to be the most naïve person I’ve ever seen,” Sorcermon answered. His tone was softer, but it was clear that he wasn’t letting his guard down despite it. “You say you’re trying to save the Digital World, you’re trying to save your friends, but how exactly do you plan to do that? Just because you got your hands on some new abilities, it doesn’t mean a thing. Seraphimon’s a lot more powerful than you’ll ever be, and that’s even while asleep. Go home. Leave the Digital World to save itself, and leave me to guard this area.”

            Disheartened, Teruo couldn’t decide whether to keep futilely trying to reason with Sorcermon or just to return to the others. But before he could make that decision, a blast of hot air came at them and the tree started to burn. Sorcermon half-turned, keeping his wand on Teruo as he watched for the new disturbance. It only took a couple of minutes for Agunimon to come out of the flames like some kind of fire demon.

            “More of you?” Sorcermon asked.

            “Those are Ophanimon’s Warriors,” Teruo explained.

            “So stand back and let us handle them,” Katsuharu ordered, coming forward with the others.

            Quickly, all four evolved and ran at the opposing Warriors. Koichi was still visibly struggling to control Duskmon, but other than that, their attention was on their counterparts. Teruo just watched as the fight began. He had two options: evolve and take on Agunimon so Duskmon could concentrate on fighting Lobomon (which he knew was a bad idea in the first place), or just take matters into his own hands. So he just ran for the gate.

            Sorcermon cursed behind him and started firing ice attacks, but Teruo ran in a zigzag formation to throw off his aim. A couple of ice shards hit his arms, but he ignored them and kept running. The whole castle was a maze of shining crystal, and he didn’t know where one corridor ended and another began. It didn’t help that Sorcermon was following closely and knew the whole layout—not to mention that Teruo was starting to get a stitch in his side. He was not used to this much running; that kind of thing was reserved for offensive players like Takuya. He could have pulled out his D-tector and used the compass to find his way, but each time he reached for his pocket, Sorcermon blasted ice at his arm. And after freezing his elbow in the last attempt to get the digivice, he gave up trying.

            “Give it up, kid, I’ve got a lot more power than you!” Sorcermon called from behind.

            Don’t waste your energy on witty banter, no matter how much he’s wrong, Teruo told himself. He looked down one hall and saw what looked like his reflection. Deciding it was a dead end, he took another. After running down that hall, he peered down another and saw his reflection again. He chose to keep running straight. But finally and inevitably, he reached a dead end, nearly crashing into it. He started to skid to a halt when a crazy idea hit him. He covered his head with his arms and ran straight for the wall, expecting it to shatter. But it didn’t, and he fell to the floor with cold, dull pain in his arms. And then he realized he’d been led into a trap. Sorcermon had frozen every exit he took in that labyrinth, taking advantage of his confusion.

            “No,” he moaned breathlessly.

            “I’ve been guarding this castle for years,” Sorcermon reminded him. “I’ve thought of every possible way someone could try and get in, and I’ve planned accordingly.” He leveled his staff at Teruo.

            “They’re going to break in,” he breathed. “Ice and glass aren’t going to stop them—especially not Takuya. You have to believe me, I’m only trying to help.”

            “It’s the Legendary Warriors who can free Seraphimon,” Sorcermon explained. “So long as there are five cooperating, letting ‘their light shine as one,’ he can be freed. All I need to do is take down one from each side.”

            “I won’t free him,” Teruo swore, pulling himself to his feet.

            “It’s over, kid.”

            “No, it’s not. Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            An ice blast hit him in the stomach and sent him flying back into the ice wall, shattering it. He forced himself to maintain his Digimon form, however, and absorbed the evolution’s leftover Fractal Code to stabilize it. Breathing heavily, he held his shield in front of him while he recovered from the attack. Normally in human form, he was tough to injure, as if his skin was made of steel. Unfortunately, steel conducted heat, and thus, he felt the sharp cold all too well.

            Need to find Seraphimon, he reminded himself and snapped his fingers. He had no idea where he needed to go, which made the teleportation rather hard, but so long as there were enough reflective surfaces around, he could search. By blocking off so many corridors with ice walls, Sorcermon had inadvertently helped him; they were just as reflective as the glass.

            The jumps were small. All he really needed to do was peer down a hall and see if it looked like he was going the right way. Since heavily guarded items tended to be in the center of the fortress, he started there and worked his way out, varying direction if he thought Sorcermon was catching onto his pattern. It took some time, but he finally saw a large crystal floating in one of the chambers. But just as he was about to jump out of the glass, two things happened: First, Sorcermon appeared in the room and fired an ice blast at the glass, fogging it; and second, a fire blast from behind threw him into the room anyway.

            “Thanks, Teruo,” Agunimon said. Mercurymon got off the floor to see that Ophanimon’s Warriors had run in, and Cherubimon’s were out of sight. “You made our job so much easier.”

            “Hope you don’t mind teaming up,” he murmured to Sorcermon.

            “Break up their teamwork if you can,” Sorcermon instructed. “The secret’s in their D-tectors.”

            “Okay,” he agreed.

            Sorcermon attacked first with an ice blast, which Agunimon immediately melted through with a fire attack. However, Mercurymon absorbed the flames from the attack and reflected them at Kumamon. Beetlemon unleashed a lightning attack, but Sorcermon fired another Crystal Barrage, giving Mercurymon the chance to step out of the path of the electricity. Kazemon tried attacking from his front, but he blocked her kicks with a shield. And when Lobomon came from behind to fire his laser, Mercurymon teleported out of the way, letting it hit Kazemon instead.

            All in all, the battle was going fairly well, and Teruo and Sorcermon made a good team. Each time one came across an opponent he couldn’t fight, the other would take his place. Of course, they were getting fairly beaten up and they were outmatched, but it didn’t matter. The point wasn’t to win; it was to make sure that Seraphimon didn’t get free. And then, just when they thought they had a chance of keeping Seraphimon sealed, it happened: Lobomon attacked Sorcermon with his swords, forcing him to block with his staff. Agunimon took advantage of the block to blast fire at him, snapping the wand in half. Lobomon followed it up by throwing him clear across the room.

            “Are you okay?” Mercurymon asked, not daring to check himself.

            “I can’t use magic without my staff,” he explained. “It’s your fight now, kid.”

            “You think you can fight against all five of us on your own?” Agunimon asked. “Face it, Teruo, you don’t stand a chance.”

            The Warriors all activated their D-tectors, and a beam of light emitted from each. Mercurymon quickly ran into action, attacking physically to throw off their aim and reflecting the light with his shields. But he had no way of preventing the inevitable. As he reflected one beam and knocked away another, the last three had already locked onto the crystal. All that remained were the last two: Agunimon and Lobomon, who took great pleasure in throwing him to the floor before letting their beams join the others’.

            “Oh no,” Mercurymon moaned as the crystal began to glow with energy.

            The crystal vanished, and the awakened Seraphimon descended to the floor. At once, the Warriors dropped to one knee, and Teruo thought he was going to be sick. Seeing Takuya bowing to something like this was so many kinds of wrong.

            “Lord Seraphimon, Lady Ophanimon sent us to release you,” Agunimon explained. “We are her Legendary Warriors.”

            “I see,” he replied. “Thank you.”

            Mercurymon couldn’t take it anymore. He started to stand, but Seraphimon had already noticed him.

            “And this?” he asked.

            “Just one of Cherubimon’s Warriors,” Lobomon answered.

            “Ah, so he’s still around then?” Seraphimon asked. He held out a hand at Mercurymon, who quickly held up a shield. He was just in time; with a cry of “Strike of the Seven Stars!” Seraphimon blasted seven gold energy spheres at him. His powers were weak from his long sleep, but he was definitely strong enough to throw Mercurymon into the next wall. For the second time that day, he forced himself to stay in his Digimon form. If he hadn’t had his shield, the shot very well could have killed him.

            He was still trying to catch his breath when the next attack came. Flinching, he raised his shield again, but there was no need. It had hit Sorcermon instead. The wizard hadn’t even been trying to protect him or anything; Seraphimon had killed him for no reason. Teruo was horrified as he saw Seraphimon absorb the Fractal Code while Sorcermon’s digiegg vanished. Suddenly, Seraphimon’s armor turned white and green from their customary blue and gold, and angelic wings turned demonic. The cross on front of his mask twisted itself into an “X” shape next, and Teruo knew he was in serious trouble.

            “That power boost was just what I needed,” he declared as Teruo’s friends finally ran in the door. “More of Cherubimon’s pitiful servants?”

            Grumblemon was too horrified to be insulted. “Oh God. The psycho’s awake?”

            “You will address me as Lord ShadowSeraphimon,” he replied, but Duskmon extended his swords.

            “I answer to no one,” he answered, running forward.

            “Koichi, watch it!” Mercurymon warned. “He’s too strong!”

            “Quite perceptive, isn’t he?” ShadowSeraphimon observed, holding out a hand. But this time, seven dark spheres formed. “Strike of the Seven Dark Stars!”

            The attack was far stronger than the one that had hit Teruo. Duskmon was blasted right through the wall and hit the next with a sickening crack before he devolved to a barely-conscious Koichi. Bokomon and Neemon were over there the fastest, trying to get him to keep his eyes open.

            “Come on, Koichi, the battlefield is no place to take a nap!” Bokomon urged.

            “Can’t help it…” Koichi muttered, struggling to retain consciousness. He managed to make his voice a little louder to say, “I’ll be okay. Just keep fighting.”

            “Keep fighting?” Grumblemon repeated. “He got thrown through a freakin’ wall, and he’s the strongest of all of us! What chance do we stand?”

            “We knew what we were getting into,” Arbormon reminded him. “And since we’re outnumbered, just look for whoever you think you can fight against.”

            “We have to keep them away from Koichi too,” Ranamon added. She then glanced over at Mercurymon. “Are you okay?”

            “I think so,” he confessed. “I’m good enough for this at least.”

            “Okay then,” Arbormon agreed, and they went into action. He took Kumamon while Grumblemon took Beetlemon, and Mercurymon and Ranamon divided their efforts against Kazemon, Agunimon, and Lobomon.

            “Do you honestly believe you can defeat me?” ShadowSeraphimon asked. “Even your precious mentor barely survived our last battle! He tried to get the Spirits of Wind and Light out of my possession, but I managed to curse one of the Spirits still on him.”

            Teruo had been blocking out the villainous exposition, so it came as a surprise when Koichi’s weak voice asked, “You’re the one who corrupted the Spirit of Darkness?”

            “I’m frankly amazed at how long you managed to keep control over it,” ShadowSeraphimon commented. “You should have gone mad long ago. But it doesn’t matter.” He held up his hand, and Mercurymon acted fast, absorbing the power of Ranamon’s Draining Rain and blasting it right at ShadowSeraphimon. It didn’t have much of an effect other than giving him a very wet, angry Celestial Digimon to deal with, but at least he’d forgotten about Koichi.

            “You insolent—” ShadowSeraphimon started, but Mercurymon cut him off with “You talk too much.”

            ShadowSeraphimon flew up close to him, shouting “Shadow Starburst!”

            The dark electrical shock went all through Mercurymon’s body when ShadowSeraphimon hit him. Once he was too weak to move, ShadowSeraphimon blasted him back. Ranamon quickly hit Lobomon with a strong enough stream of water to throw him into Mercurymon’s path. It had the dual effect of breaking Teruo’s fall and knocking out one of the Warriors. Mercurymon shot her a grateful smile as he got back up.

            “No problem,” she replied. “Someone had to do it.”

            Even with Koji taken out, they were still hopelessly outmatched. ShadowSeraphimon, being your typical evil overlord, didn’t want to get his hands dirty doing anything that his Warriors could handle, and handle it they did. A half-frozen Arbormon had a hard time trying to keep up with Kumamon’s fast moves, and Mercurymon and Ranamon had been forced back-to-back against wind-fanned flames. Grumblemon wasn’t getting killed by Beetlemon, but he still couldn’t manage to score a decent hit. Cherubimon’s Warriors forced themselves to mix up their battle tactics a little; Arbormon and Grumblemon moved closer to each other for better effect against their respective opponents, and Ranamon and Mercurymon split up to avoid the shared attacks against them.

            “You’re looking tired, Teruo,” Agunimon taunted, hitting him with his low-strength Pyro Darts. “I barely have to do anything against you.”

            Just a little more, he silently urged, absorbing the flames into his right shield. He was tired, but he had more than enough energy for this. Once he’d absorbed enough fire, he teleported behind Agunimon and blasted it all right back at him. As it was still his own element, Takuya wasn’t hurt, but he was shot repeatedly and forced in the middle of Arbormon and Grumblemon’s battle. They threw him across the room with a combination of Roundhouse Punt and Seismic Sledge. Once he got the chance, Grumblemon shouted, “What was that?”

            “Just returning the favor from before!” Mercurymon quipped back, catching his breath before returning to the chaos.

            The floor was slippery from Ranamon’s water attacks and Kumamon’s ice attacks, so anyone who couldn’t fly was constantly slipping around while running or getting shocked when Beetlemon used a lightning attack. Mercurymon, however, was putting it to his advantage by using the limited friction to slam into Agunimon. His body still carried a painful electrical charge, which hit Agunimon when they collided.

            “Think you’re pretty clever, don’t you?” he asked as they both got back up.

            “Whatever works,” Mercurymon answered.

            “Strike of the Seven Dark Stars!”

            Mercurymon whipped around and held up his shield as one of the dark orbs came at him. Two each hit Ranamon, Arbormon, and Grumblemon, throwing them aside like rag-dolls. Mercurymon was pushed back across the slippery floor, breathing heavily from the stress of blocking the attack. He could hear Koichi trying to urge the others to get back up, but he had no time to dwell on it as ShadowSeraphimon descended from the air before him.

            “It appears that I’ll have to help my Warriors in this,” he observed. “You are weak, yet I am impressed by your persistence. It was admirable to the end.” And with that, a dark charge built up in his hand.

            “Teruo, get out of there! Your shield can’t protect you!” Bokomon cried.

            But the warning was in vain. Once the Shadow Starburst hit his steel armor, Mercurymon knew he was done for. Even so, he refused to drop to his knees. If he died, he was not going to give ShadowSeraphimon the pleasure of seeing him as subservient as Takuya.

            “Strike of the Seven Dark Stars!”

            All seven orbs were coming at him at near point-blank range. Hoping to delay his death a little longer, Mercurymon brought up his left shield and absorbed the attack before firing it back out in a Dark Reflection.

            The attack was powerful—strong enough to throw Duskmon through a wall and powerful enough separated to throw aside the others. All seven at full strength at near point-blank range would have killed Teruo.

            Everyone stopped and stared as Teruo devolved and gaped at the sight before him. A ring of Fractal Code had formed around a paralyzed ShadowSeraphimon. Powerful he had been, but he was far too slow to dodge the attack. Fearing that if he didn’t do something, ShadowSeraphimon might rejoin the battle, Teruo pulled out his D-tector and scanned the data. When he fell over, panting from exhaustion, no one did a thing. It was as if the entire world had gone silent and still. Then it slowly started to click in everyone’s mind: Teruo had defeated Seraphimon.

            “Hey, I got it!” Neemon declared happily, holding up a blue digiegg with a gold emblem on it. It was enough to wake everyone back to reality.

            “Get them,” Agunimon ordered.

            Ranamon half-skated over to Neemon, scooped up both him and the egg, and cried, “Everybody run!”

            Arbormon grabbed Teruo before running over to pick up Koichi, and Grumblemon put Bokomon over his shoulder as they ran out of the castle. They didn’t care where they went, so long as they got away from the enraged Warriors behind them. Grumblemon smashed down the walls to make their escape easier. They were leaving an easy trail to follow, but that didn’t matter right now. All that mattered was getting out.

            Finally, Grumblemon smashed through the outside wall. Bokomon took one look at the distance to the ground and declared, “You can’t be thinking of jumping!”

            “What’s there to think about?” Grumblemon replied. “We’re being chased!”

            “Oh, all right,” Bokomon relented nervously. “Just be careful!”

            “Be careful or live? Your choice!”

            “Just jump already!” Ranamon cried, making the leap while Neemon screamed in delight.

            They crashed into numerous twigs and branches during the fall, but everyone was mostly uninjured when they hit the ground. No one stopped after landing; they ran all the way through the Forest Kingdom. This time, they kept the collateral damage to a minimum. They did not want Ophanimon’s Warriors finding them so quickly. To cover their tracks, they took several twists and turns throughout the forest, occasionally doubling-back if needed. But ultimately, they took whatever route took them the farthest from the castle.

            It was hours later when they stopped to set up camp. Koichi, who had lost consciousness during the escape, woke as Arbormon set him and Teruo down before devolving. Teppei and Chiaki followed suit.

            “Are we safe?” Teruo asked, shaking a bit. He couldn’t help it; he’d been jittery since the end of the battle.

            “Don’t know,” Katsuharu confessed. “But I think we’re okay for now. We’ll rest here and set out again later. Koichi, get some sleep while the rest of us find food.”

            “I’ll take the first watch,” Teruo volunteered.

            “Are you sure?” Chiaki asked. “You fought a lot today…”

            “Trust me, I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep easily,” he admitted, and the others nodded in agreement.

            “Okay, I can go next,” Katsuharu decided, “then Chiaki, then Teppei, and do you mind taking the last watch, Koichi?” Tiredly, Koichi shook his head.

            “Oh, for goodness’s sake, give me that!” Bokomon declared, snatching the egg from Neemon, who had been playing with it all the while. “You’re just going to break it!”

            “Hey, is Seraphimon going to come back?” Teppei asked.

            “Maybe,” Bokomon admitted, stuffing the egg in his belt. “But his data should be purified now that Teruo’s scanned it.”

            “Oh, right,” Teruo remembered. “I have to render it now, right?” He took his D-tector out of his pocket and tried to release the data, but an error came up on the screen. “Why won’t it render?”

            “Hmm, Seraphimon was heavily corrupted,” Bokomon pointed out. “Perhaps the data’s still being fixed inside your D-tector?”

            “I don’t think you have to worry about it right now,” Chiaki said. “Let’s just find something to eat. I think I smell some kind of water, so there might be some kind of fruit growing nearby.”

            “Okay,” Teruo agreed and walked off with her and Teppei while Katsuharu stayed to keep an eye on Koichi. It was going to be a long night.

            ~~~

            Chiaki woke up with a start, remembering that she had to keep watch. Muttering about Katsuharu forgetting to wake her, she sat up to see Teruo sitting next to the fire, staring off into space.

            “You’re still awake?” she whispered.

            “Yeah,” he answered. “I told Katsuharu to go back to bed halfway through. No point in both of us staying awake.”

            She blinked a little at his answer. It was rather straightforward for him. “How are you feeling?”

            “Not good,” he confessed. “I can’t make myself sleep. I feel like I have too much energy, but I’m still exhausted from all the fighting.”

            “Too much adrenaline, maybe?” she suggested.

            “Maybe,” he admitted. “But even if I could fall asleep, I don’t think I’d stay asleep. Not after everything that happened today.”

            “I don’t blame you,” she said, sitting closer to him. “You were right in the middle of everything.”

            “I still can’t decide what’s worse—the battle or just the fact that Takuya and everybody were bowing to Seraphimon like his slaves. Takuya’s my friend, and he’d never bow to anybody. He’s got too much pride for that. Each time I think I understand how powerful that spell is, something worse comes along.”

            “Yeah,” Chiaki agreed.

            “And the end of it all—killing Seraphimon…” Teruo lowered his head. “I know I didn’t pull the trigger, but it feels like it. I know he was going to destroy the Digital World if we didn’t stop him, and I know that it was technically self-defense, but that doesn’t change the fact that I did something that wound up killing him.”

            “You know, Katsuharu never told us anything about how his battle with Angemon was,” Chiaki realized. “He was so tired and betrayed that we didn’t press him on it. We all were feeling betrayed. But we never asked him how hard it was. And even if we did, I doubt he’d have told us. It’s not something we should have to know, how it feels to kill—even in self-defense.”

            “But that’s not all,” Teruo continued. “Then I start thinking about Sorcermon. He was doing the same thing we were—trying to protect the Digital World from a threat. Maybe he didn’t go about it the right way, but he didn’t want anything to happen. He was even kind to me and tried to reason with me before I ran inside the castle. And Seraphimon—ShadowSeraphimon,” he corrected himself, “—killed him just like that, for no reason. Sorcermon wasn’t even trying to protect me or anything. We both stared at him awakening, and the next thing we know, that attack hits him, and Seraphimon takes his Code just to change form.”

            “Are you going to be okay?” Chiaki checked.

            “Yeah,” he affirmed. “Just not tonight.”

            “I understand,” she replied, putting an arm around him for comfort. It was all she could really do, but it was all he needed. Though he didn’t fall asleep, he started to feel a lot more rested than he had been in a while.

 

The title comes from the opening theme of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Major thanks to Ryan Griffin and Shaun Garin for help throughout.

As I’ve said before, chapters will not be coming out as quickly as in the past—after all, I wrote this chapter just after my midterms finished, and I am having a great deal of trouble in chemistry lab and organic chemistry, for which I will probably need a tutor. Updates will be slow. Also don’t expect monster chapters like this—this is an exception because of it was essentially a “boss battle.”

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Eight: “Between the Future and the Past”

            Koichi was falling. He didn’t know how or why, but he was falling, and he couldn’t stop it. He couldn’t tell where he was falling from or to, and he couldn’t tell the height or how long he’d been falling. He was shocked at first, but now scared. His arms were almost limp at his sides, pushed up slightly by the force of the fall. He couldn’t save himself.

            Suddenly, Duskmon appeared in front of him. Terrified, Koichi raised his arms in defense—they were going to collide! Gravity pulled him closer and closer and…

            Koichi woke up just as his dream-self was about to fall right into Duskmon. His head was hurting, mostly near his left temple, and he glared at his D-tector as he woke up. More than likely, the Spirit had forced that odd dream on him.

            “Can never leave me alone, can you?” he muttered.

            “Morning,” Teruo whispered. Koichi blinked in surprise—hadn’t Teppei volunteered to take the watch before him? “You feeling better?”

            “A little tired,” he admitted, “but I’ll be fine. You?”

            “Kind of the opposite, actually,” he confessed sheepishly. “I’ve been up all night.”

            “What’s wrong?” Koichi asked, sitting across from him and the banked coals of last night’s fire.

            “I don’t really know,” Teruo answered. “I tried falling asleep, but I feel like I’ve got too much energy.” He decided to neglect mentioning the nightmares he was afraid he’d have if he could sleep; Koichi looked like he’d been through enough of them himself. “You think Cherubimon might know what’s wrong?”

            Koichi shrugged. “He might, but I’m not sure how to contact him. I hardly ever see him anyway.”

            Teruo looked at him in surprise. “But weren’t you staying in his tower?”

            “He actually kept his distance from me for some reason,” he confessed. “I’d only seen him a few times before he asked me to meet you guys in Steel Town, and I’d been there for about a month.”

            “That’s weird,” Teruo said. “But I think we should try anyway.” He took out his D-tector and started fiddling with it, trying to find some way of reaching their distant mentor. The symbols of his team’s Spirits came up, causing each one to beep incessantly and wake its holder. Teruo offered a sheepish smile in return before sighing and giving up.

            “Sorry,” Koichi apologized. “I can’t think of anything.”

            “What were you doing?” Teppei asked with a yawn.

            “I thought I could try contacting Cherubimon to see why I feel like I’ve got too much energy, but it didn’t work out,” Teruo explained.

            “I already told you,” Teppei replied, “the mysterious benefactor contacts you; you can’t contact him. And he’ll always call with perfect timing—” Teruo’s digivice started to beep and display Cherubimon’s emblem. “…Like that.”

            “Um, Teruo here,” he said awkwardly.

            “I hope I didn’t wake you children, but I needed to contact you the moment I heard that you defeated Seraphimon,” Cherubimon answered. “Congratulations.”

            “It was Teruo who did it,” Koichi said.

            “By accident,” Teruo pointed out, flushing.

            “Still, the fact that you won is very impressive. I’m proud to call you my Warriors.”

            “We do have a couple of problems, though,” Teruo confessed. “I haven’t been able to sleep since the battle ended—I feel like I have too much energy. And I couldn’t manage to render the Fractal Code I scanned.”

            “Seraphimon had changed forms when we fought him and called himself ShadowSeraphimon,” Chiaki added. “Could that be the reason why Teruo can’t get the Fractal Code out of his D-tector?”

            “Most likely,” Cherubimon agreed. “His Fractal Code was badly warped and needs the time to purify itself. And because there is a large amount of energy still in his D-tector, Teruo is feeling the side-effects. They should wear off in a few days. Is there anything else?”

            “Yeah, actually,” Teruo answered, getting confused looks from the others. Did he have another problem? “The past two times Koichi evolved, he lost consciousness. He was better this time around, but last time, he was out for days.”

            “It’s not a problem, really,” Koichi interrupted, looking at Teruo as if begging him not to press the issue. “I can handle it.”

            “He’s going to need to use his Spirit,” Teruo insisted, ignoring the look. “His brother is one of Ophanimon’s Warriors.” Koichi didn’t protest any further after that.

            “How often have you used the Spirit, Koichi?” Cherubimon’s voice was grave.

            “Twice,” he admitted. “And like Teruo said, I was unconscious for four days the first time. The second, I got thrown through a wall by ShadowSeraphimon. I only stayed conscious because Bokomon and Neemon kept waking me up each time I started to black out. But I’m doing better at controlling it, really.”

            “Still, I should have anticipated this problem,” Cherubimon replied. “Unlike the others, you need a secondary power source to remain stable when you evolve.”

            “Remain stable?” Koichi repeated. “Is something wrong with me?”

            There was a brief silence before Cherubimon said, “Your data is unstable, though I can’t tell you exactly why. Every time you evolve, it causes strain on your mind to try and control it, and you use a great deal of energy trying to keep that control. You will need to draw from a secondary power source to avoid the drain from controlling your Human Spirit.”

            “A Beast Spirit, then!” Bokomon realized, opening to the hidden page on the Beast Spirits. “It says here that they are twice as powerful as the Human Spirits. That sounds like exactly what Koichi needs.”

            “But don’t we have to go searching for them?” Neemon asked.

            “I have the Beast Spirit of Darkness with me,” Cherubimon explained. “I will send it in a few days. For now, all of you should recover from your battle—you’ve earned the rest.”

            “Just a second, Cherubimon,” Katsuharu cut in. “After all we’ve done, I think you owe us some back-story.”

            “What is it you want to know?”

            “How about how all this started?” Teppei asked. “We could ask Bokomon, but it doesn’t make the same impact as hearing it from the source.”

            There was a world-weary sigh, and the children started to think that maybe their benefactor was just as mortal as they were: tired of fighting against friends. Finally, he said, “It wasn’t always this way. After Lucemon’s fall, the Digital World was in chaos. War threatened to break out again, so Seraphimon, Ophanimon, and I were chosen to bring some order to the world at last. For a long time, it looked like we’d finally achieved that. I suppose I should have realized that none of this would last.

            “Seraphimon and Ophanimon began to institute policies that were unfair to the Beast Digimon, suppressing their wild nature. I thought it was just personality conflicts between us that were causing this strife, but after a while, I could no longer ignore the suffering of Digimon of both types all over the Digital World. I confronted Ophanimon about it, as love and life were her domain. But I could not believe the change in her—the cold indifference she had, in place of her warm concern for everyone. I realized then that if she had changed so much, so too had my friend Seraphimon, and so I hurried to his castle to confront him. The rest of the story you know.”

            “How could someone change like that?” Teruo asked. “They were your friends…”

            “Not everything turns out the way it does in books, Teruo,” Teppei replied solemnly. “Not every drastic change is because of a spell.”

            “Thanks, Cherubimon,” Katsuharu said. “I think we get it now.”

            “Don’t linger on the past,” he advised. “This is a time for you to relax.”

            “Yeah, I think we’ll do that,” he agreed. As the emblem faded from Teruo’s D-tector, Katsuharu said, “Okay, let’s just eat something and head out. I think there’s a village nearby—we can head there.”

            ~~~

            The minute they stepped foot in the village, the kids stared in surprise. Most of the villages they’d seen thus far were small, quiet townships. This was the complete opposite—a tent city full of mystics. It was so much like a fantasy book that Teruo was grinning as he looked around at everything.

            “Be careful,” Bokomon warned, trying to sound authoritative to make up for the fact that he had an egg in his belt. “Many of the mystics here are frauds, but there are some very good fortunetellers. For example, there’s Shamanmon, considered to be the wisest in the Digital World.”

            “Fortunetelling?” Teruo repeated.

            “You know, that sounds like fun,” Chiaki said. “Something to do while getting supplies.”

            “So where’s the best place to go?” Katsuharu asked.

            Bokomon looked around before pointing out a small beige tent. “That one. They don’t go into the bizarre the way most others here do. It won’t be too odd for you, I don’t think.”

            “Let’s check it out,” Katsuharu decided.

            Two customers walked out of the tent, one cheering and the other looking disappointed. The fortuneteller, a Babamon, waved them off before seeing her new customers.

            “Ah, you all want your fortunes read?” she asked.

            Teruo looked at everyone before saying, “I guess.”

            “Nah, count me out,” Katsuharu opted. “I’ll just listen to yours.”

            “Not a believer?” Babamon guessed.

            Katsuharu shrugged. “I prefer making my own destiny. No fun in knowing what’s to come.”

            Babamon nodded. “So who’s first?”

            It was quickly agreed that Teruo would be first, so he sat down at the table, completely at a loss for what to do. Babamon stood over him and took his hand.

            “I’ll need to see your Fractal Code,” she said.

            “Okay,” he agreed, reaching in for the same feeling he had when he evolved. The glowing, iridescent circle formed around his hand.

            Babamon traced the path of the data ring and said, “Things will be difficult for you, but your future appears bright. You are stronger than you think. Don’t ever doubt it, no matter what anyone tells you.”

            Teruo nodded as Chiaki took his place. She too displayed her Fractal Code and let Babamon examine it. “What do you see?”

            “So impatient,” she muttered. “Amazing how contradictory you are—patient with those who are hurting, but impatient with those who are not. Beware your words—your voice may be your greatest weapon, but any weapon can hurt your allies as well as your enemies.”

            Chiaki sulked while Teppei started laughing. Glaring, she said, “Then why don’t you go next?”

            “Fine, I will,” he answered smugly, taking a seat and displaying his Fractal Code.

            Babamon barely had to look at it before declaring, “The misfortune you suffer is your own fault.”

            “What?” Teppei cried as Chiaki grinned and Katsuharu snickered. “You’ve got to see something more.”

            “Just a long string of your mistakes coming back to bite you in the rear,” she answered. “Learn some foresight. Next.”

            Everyone looked at Koichi, who awkwardly came forward. Babamon looked at him expectantly, but he explained, “My data’s unstable. I don’t know if I can display my Fractal Code safely.”

            “That won’t be a problem,” Babamon replied. “Just give me your hand, and I can trace your data’s pattern. It may be a little more difficult, but it still works.”

            “Okay,” he agreed, laying his hand on the table. He felt a little odd as Babamon poured her power into him, searching for his data.

            “Hmm, that’s odd,” she said. “Your pattern is strange—it’s hard to get a reading.”

            “Because I’m human?” he guessed.

            “Maybe,” she answered. “But from what I see, you have neither a past nor a future. You exist only in the present, for a fleeting moment. When this moment is over, then your story begins.” The others exchanged confused glances.

            “What does that mean?” Chiaki asked.

            “Let me look deeper,” Babamon replied. More power went into Koichi, and he started to feel a dull thud in the left side of his head. “You have many demons—you’ll have to accept them sooner or later. You must not reject your darkness—it is what gives you strength.”

            “Anything about a brother in there?” Katsuharu asked.

            Babamon’s lips twitched. “I thought you didn’t want to hear the future.”

            “I didn’t,” he replied. “But having an idea where to go can’t hurt, especially not in his case.”

            Babamon started to pour in more power, and the pain in Koichi’s head sharpened. He started gripping the tablecloth with his other hand. Finally, he fell out of the chair altogether, nearly bringing the table’s contents down on top of him. The others raced to his side as he started panting. His heart was beating wildly, and he felt dizzy. It was a while before he could regain his bearings.

            “What happened?” Teppei demanded.

            “Too much power,” he gasped. “I couldn’t take it.”

            “I’ve never met anyone so difficult to read,” Babamon observed. “I’ve never had to put that much effort into trying to read someone’s future, so I apologize for your distress.”

            “I’ll be okay,” Koichi assured, shaking his head to try and ease his dizziness. With the others’ help, he managed to get to his feet. “What did you find?”

            “As trite and cliché as it sounds, my best advice for you is to listen to your heart,” she answered. “You have many connections in your heart, every last one of them interconnected. I can’t see what will happen to you, but I do know that these connections, these threads that bind you to everyone, will help you in the end.” Then she shrugged. “Or it just means you’ll win the lotto. I can’t tell.”

            “You’re insane, aren’t you?” Teppei guessed.

            “Comes with the territory,” Babamon replied.

            They left the tent, and Koichi assured, “I’m okay,” when everyone started to hover. “Probably not a good idea for me to try that again.”

            “I’m surprised that happened to you,” Bokomon remarked. “Your data must be in bad shape for you to have that kind of reaction.”

            “But what did she mean by you living only in the present?” Teruo asked.

            “Yeah,” Chiaki agreed. “It didn’t sound good.”

            Koichi shrugged. “It didn’t make any sense to me either. But she said my pattern was weird, so maybe she just couldn’t trace my past or future.”

            “Sounds like a load of crap to me,” Teppei decided. “She tells Teruo what he wants to hear, and tells us a bunch of disturbing stuff that we either can’t figure out or already know.”

            “I don’t think so,” Koichi replied. “I think she really did see something different in all of us. I mean, just the fact that I felt that power going through me is enough, right?” Teppei reluctantly nodded. “And I can’t help but think she reminds me of my grandmother.”

            The others all looked at each other, hesitantly curious at the sad smile on Koichi’s face. Finally, Chiaki asked, “How?”

            “Just the way she was changing from a serious to silly like that,” he answered. “My grandma was the same way. When she was well, she had so much energy—she used to wear me out when she babysat me as a kid. Mom was never like that, but Grandma really could do anything. Mom gave me everything she could and loved me with all her heart, but it was Grandma who taught me the most.” He laughed suddenly, causing the others to relax. “Most of the time, she let me learn things the hard way. She was trying to teach me how to make rice balls once when I was five, and somehow I managed to destroy half the kitchen trying to get the ingredients and spilled just about everything. It took an hour for me to clean up, and then I managed to spill an entire bottle of something all over myself when I tried to put everything back in the fridge. She threw me in the bath and had the whole kitchen spotless by the time I got out.”

            “She really sounds great,” Chiaki said, and Teruo nodded.

            “Yeah,” Koichi replied. “So it was hard seeing her in the hospital, so weak and regretful. She was nothing like the Grandma I knew. When she told me about Koji, I knew I had to find him. If she couldn’t bear to take this secret to the grave, then I couldn’t just let it go.”

            “We’ll get him back,” Teruo promised. Everyone looked at him in surprise, unused to such conviction from him. “We’ll get them all back.”

            No one wanted to be the realist and argue with him, and his determination was just too contagious anyway. They located a shop and started buying as many necessary supplies as possible. Koichi didn’t have much money on him, but the others did from the work they’d done protecting Steel Town. Most of their supplies were medical, although they threw in some dried fruit for emergency food rations.

            Drums were beating outside, along with rhythmic chanting. Interested, the kids stepped outside the shop to see some kind of fighting dance demonstration. A Dinohyumon was aiming high, sweeping kicks at a Lilamon, who flipped backwards to avoid it. Her partner, a Persiamon, flipped in with numerous sweeping kicks. A Yasyamon joined in on Dinohyumon’s side, making spinning attacks with his swords, but Persiamon danced out of the way. Everyone watched, completely caught up in the rhythm and movements. Then Teppei grinned and turned to Teruo.

            “You still feeling too energetic?” he asked.

            “Yeah, why?” Teruo asked.

            Teppei called out suddenly, “Any chance of taking on some learners? I think my friend wants to try!”

            Teruo stared at him in shock while Katsuharu smacked his forehead in disbelief, Chiaki rolled her eyes, and Koichi looked a bit worried. This only doubled when the four performers looked at each other and shrugged before Lilamon said, “Sure.”

            Koichi grabbed Teruo’s arm before he went over to the performers. “These guys are good—they’ve probably been doing this for years. Are you sure?”

            “No,” Teruo confessed. “But I don’t think they’ll go too hard on me.”

            “And if they do, we’ll get back at Teppei for you,” Chiaki promised, resulting in Teppei rolling his eyes.

            Teruo stood right in front of Lilamon, trying his hardest not to look as nervous as he felt. He was the Warrior of Steel, but there was a massive difference between fighting an enemy and performing a new fighting style in front of a lot of people. Lilamon noticed his tension, winked, and said, “Don’t worry. I’m actually sweet and gentle.” The snickers coming from the other Digimon were not at all reassuring.

            The drums started again, and Lilamon aimed a kick at his head. Teruo started to duck out of instinct, but Dinohyumon gave him a signal to lean back. Teruo followed the direction to see that the kick was aimed too high, compensating for his lack of flexibility in comparison to the others. But then she recovered and pressed him down, throwing him off-balance. He would have fallen unceremoniously on his back if Yasyamon hadn’t been there to put his hands underneath Teruo’s and throw him up in the air. The audience gasped as Teruo went flying in the air, just managing an awkward roll in the air that brought him right-side up. Yasyamon then caught him before he could hit the ground and threw him back into the match.

            Lilamon’s next attack was a high roundhouse kick. Now getting the hang of things, Teruo leaned to the side, falling into a slightly clumsy cartwheel. She landed, making another roundhouse kick, and he followed with another cartwheel. Unfortunately, he crashed right into a cabbage cart, knocking nearly all of the vegetables into the streets. After apologizing profusely to the distraught merchant, helping to pick up the mess, and buying a few heads to make amends (because the poor guy looked like he was about to have a nervous breakdown), Teruo sheepishly returned to the match.

            “Not bad,” Lilamon replied. “Now, let’s see about offense.”

            Teruo could hardly walk after the demonstration was over, and he knew he’d be sore for days from trying to get his legs that high. Still, he was grinning uncontrollably. It had been exactly what he needed to get rid of that excess energy, and the rush from the flips and kicks was enough to keep him in a very good mood all day.

            “See? I did some good after all,” Teppei insisted.

            A stray boomerang suddenly came flying through the air. Everyone felt a little vengeful over Teppei’s trick on Teruo, so they didn’t warn him before it clocked him in the head. He yelped and clutched the back of his head while Katsuharu snickered and commented, “Now come back, boomerang.”

            “Looks like Babamon’s prediction about you was right,” Chiaki said.

            Teppei put on the most injured face he could and said, “That really hurt, you know. Looks like Babamon was right about you too.” She glared back at him, but didn’t say anything.

            In an attempt to ward off a potential World War III, Koichi interrupted and asked, “Why don’t you get another prediction? Not just one thing is going to happen in your futures.”

            “I’m out,” Teppei decided. “I don’t think I can stand hearing another warning of ‘Learn some foresight—your mistakes will come back to bite you in the ass.’”

            “I’ll go for it then,” Chiaki replied. “I’m not afraid.”

            She entered the first tent she saw, where a Wisemon sat before a crystal ball. Almost defiantly, she sat down in the chair in front of him. He hardly looked up as he warned, “Payment?”

            “How much?” she asked.

            “It depends on what you want to know,” he answered. “The present is the cheapest, as it is the easiest. The past is a little more expensive, as it requires me to look farther. The most expensive is the future, as it has no shape as yet. Trying to discover its shape is the most difficult, and therefore requires more payment.”

            Chiaki laid a handful of coins down on the table and declared, “Just tell me as much as this can get you.”

            He swept up the coins without counting them. “The near-future, then.” Chiaki started to display her Fractal Code, but he stopped her. “There’s no need for that. I can see everything in my crystal ball.”

            “All right then,” she answered.

            Smoke started to fill the crystal ball, followed by so many flashes of images that it made Chiaki’s head hurt to look at them. She felt a little dizzy when the images stopped, but Wisemon started speaking so she tried to focus on what he was saying:

            “I see that you are trying to find your place in life. You are used to being shuffled around, the least important member of your family, and among your friends, you are hardly any different. I am sorry to say that your situation will never improve. Try as hard as you might, you will never achieve the self-fulfillment you crave.”

            “Liar!” Chiaki cried, her voice wavering. “You’re only playing on my fears, aren’t you? Trying to make it sound good! Well, I’m not buying it!”

            “I could always give another demonstration, since you don’t believe me,” Wisemon replied. “Would anyone else like a chance?”

            “I’ll go,” Teruo agreed solemnly. He sat in the chair and paid Wisemon and then watched as the smoky images flashed through the crystal at a dizzying speed. When it finally stopped, he too tried to concentrate on Wisemon’s voice to avoid his sudden feeling of nausea.

            “Your past has been full of restrictions, but I am happy to say that you have now left them all behind,” he explained. “You will never again have anything to fear or worry about. You are now free, and your future is bright.”

            Teruo suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He got out of the chair to see Chiaki trembling with suppressed rage. He started to move out of her way, but she continued to look straight at him. Teppei warned, “Hey, Teruo, I know you’re usually immune from her wrath, but I don’t think today’s a good time to test that!” before grabbing his arm and running. Chiaki shoved the bag of supplies into Katsuharu’s hands and took off after them, and he followed to try and keep her from killing them.

            “Why’s everyone running away?” Neemon asked.

            “Come on,” Koichi urged. “We’d better catch up.”

            “Are you sure I can’t interest you in a reading?” Wisemon offered.

            “No thanks,” Koichi replied. “I nearly passed out with my last one.”

            “My method is purely non-invasive,” Wisemon said. “All I need to do is scan your memories to get a feel for your destined path.”

            The thought of someone poking around in his head made him feel very uncomfortable, and he replied more forcefully, “No thank you.”

            “Are you sure?” Wisemon asked. “I can even do a simple scan of your aura.” He waved his hand, and suddenly Koichi was startled to see shadows all over him, shaped like an intermediate between Duskmon and something else he didn’t recognize. And he wasn’t the only one caught off-guard. Wisemon started in shock for a moment before declaring, “I didn’t expect this. You seemed so light…”

            “Light?” Koichi repeated. “My Spirit is Darkness.”

            Though it was hard to tell as he was a faceless being, Wisemon seemed to look quite unnerved. “Did you say ‘Spirit’?”

            “Of course,” Bokomon answered. “Koichi is the Warrior of Darkness.”

            They were conveniently standing outside the tent when he said this, so just about everyone in the street got to hear it.

            “Warrior of Darkness?” a Witchmon murmured. “A Legendary Warrior?”

            “But aren’t they evil?” a Bakemon asked.

            “Cherubimon has five of his own,” a Wizardmon remembered.

            “Didn’t they just destroy Seraphimon?” an Impmon provided.

            None of these comments seemed to comfort Wisemon. His discomfort was magnified when Koichi turned his attention back to him, having finally realized that the shadows around him were his aura.

            “You’ve been faking it the whole time,” he realized. “You just scanned Chiaki and Teruo’s memories and made up a prediction based on what you saw in their pasts. You can’t tell the future at all!”

            This supported accusation managed to catch everyone’s attention, and they all gathered around the tent to see what Koichi would do. Already, his aura looked like it was extending two swords from his hands, and Wisemon started to worry.

            “What do you want?” he asked. “I’ll do anything.”

            Koichi was calmer, but the ghostly blades did not retract—as if his aura was acting completely independently of him. “Just give my friends their money back,” he requested. “And stop conning people like this.”

            Wisemon was only happy to agree, handing over a very full money pouch, informing, “Here’s your friends’ money back—plus interest.” He flinched when Koichi reached to take the money, but the blades had finally retracted.

            “Thank you,” he replied, walking out of the tent. Bokomon and Neemon followed.

            His aura hadn’t quite vanished as he walked out to find his friends. It would be a little time before the effects wore off. Everyone stared after him as he left, completely speechless until a Wizardmon whistled, impressed, and voiced the one thing on everyone’s mind:

            “That kid sure made one hell of an exit.”

            ~~~

            By the time Katsuharu managed to catch up with Chiaki, she’d given up her chase. That did not, however, mean that she’d given up her rage. The streets were almost bare—once they heard her shouts and threats, everyone had taken cover. Katsuharu didn’t blame them.

            “Hey, calm down!” he urged. “That psychic didn’t know what he was talking about.”

            “Sounded a lot like it to me,” she replied.

            “I already said I prefer making my own future,” Katsuharu reasoned. “What’s the big deal here?”

            Chiaki took a breath, but it didn’t do anything to calm her. “He just hit a little too close to home.”

            “Does this have to do with your family again?” he asked.

            “You try being the middle child and see what it’s like!” she shouted. “Isamu’s the oldest, always getting the responsibilities and praises that come with it, and Haruka’s the baby. They both get special treatment, and who am I? The first-born daughter? The ‘middle one’? I get nothing special out of that!”

            Katsuharu twitched at the remark about Chiaki’s younger sister. “If you think being the middle child’s so hard, you’ve got no clue about being the youngest—much less being the only boy in a house full of girls. Kiyoshi and Kasumi picked on me all the time, and even though I got along best with Kyoko ‘cause she was so much older, she babied me all the time. I was the runt of the litter, and I couldn’t stand it.”

            Chiaki deflated. “Is that why you and Teppei picked on other kids? Because you were picked on yourselves?”

            “I guess,” Katsuharu admitted, shrugging. “At first, it made me feel better about myself, but after a while, I just got used to it.”

            “It’s the same reason for me why I’m always so upset about not fitting in,” Chiaki continued. “I didn’t feel like I had a place at home, and among my ‘friends,’ I was pretty easily replaced.”

            Katsuharu snorted. “You realize that Koichi’s probably got the most normal life out of all of us?” Chiaki couldn’t help but laugh. “So, you up for one more prediction?”

            “Why not?” she agreed.

            A Doumon and a Taomon held shop in the street. As Katsuharu and Chiaki got closer, Doumon happily piped up, “Fortunes told for free! But there’s no guarantee for what we see!”

            The children blinked before Taomon, in a deadpan voice, explained, “The rhyming’s just a gimmick to get customers.”

            “Uh, yeah, I want my fortune told,” Chiaki said.

            Taomon held out several strips of paper and instructed, “Pick one.”

            Chiaki selected a strip and stared at it in surprise. “It’s blank.”

            Taomon produced a giant paintbrush and painted calligraphy in the air. Characters started to appear on the paper. “It’s in tune with your spirit now. Read.”

            “‘A deeper bond will form between you and the one you’d least expect,’” she read. “Who’s that supposed to be?”

            “Think about it,” Taomon instructed. “Who’s the one person you doubt you’d form a stronger relationship with?”

            Chiaki puzzled over it for a minute. She’d always been fairly close to Teruo, and she was starting to form a good friendship with Koichi as well. And as the leader, Katsuharu had a unique kind of closeness. Ophanimon’s Warriors—she hoped she’d get closer to them once they saved them. So that only left one person…

            “Teppei!” she yelled. “You die now!”

            Katsuharu merely sighed and asked, “Mind if I give it a shot?”

            “No problem!” Doumon giggled, repeating the process. Katsuharu selected a blank strip of paper, and she painted a sign over him. “What’s it say?”

            “‘Expect many trials and tribulations, for they are the burden that follows your position,’” he recited.

            “Yep!” Doumon replied. “Your three younger brothers and younger sister depend on you, so try to take care of them as much as you can.”

            “No problem,” he answered flatly. “Thanks.”

            As they walked off, Chiaki leaned over and said, “But you said you were the youngest of four, with only sisters.”

            “I am,” he answered. “So don’t believe everything you hear.”

            Doumon watched them leave and asked, “You think they’ll realize that we only speak in metaphors and never give straight answers?”

            “Them?” Taomon asked. “Nope.”

            ~~~

            It was late in the afternoon when they all met up again. Teppei and Teruo were a little haggard from running both from Chiaki and a crazy boomerang-slinging Sepikmon. Koichi, Bokomon, and Neemon showed up a little later with a pouch of money, saying nothing more than that Wisemon wanted to pay them back for their fortunes. After buying a quick dinner, they set out, ready to continue on their journey to who knew where.

            Five hours later, the village was wiped out in a massive, fiery explosion. Ironically, no one saw it coming.

 

The Doumon and Taomon team at the end was completely inspired by the Oracle Twins of American Dragon: Jake Long, complete with ambiguously worded prophecies. The cabbage cart and distraught merchant were borrowed from Avatar’s running gag of a down-on-his-luck cabbage guy, and Katsuharu’s crack about the boomerang also came from Avatar. Koichi’s aura appearing like that was partially inspired by Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke, when his demon is visible from his anger. The fighting dance is basically pseudo-capoeira; I don’t know the martial art myself, but I’ve seen it from time to time, and I thought some elements of this would be fun to throw in. I blame Shaun Garin. Thanks to him, Ryan Griffin, and Lord Archive for help throughout.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Nine: “Let Me Fall”

            “Goodbye, Forest Kingdom!” Teppei declared. After two days of travel—one of which when they’d gotten hopelessly lost and strayed off path a lot—they were finally near the border of the Forest Kingdom.

            “A little early to say it, don’t you think?” Chiaki asked. “We’re still within the borders.”

            “Yeah, but it’s about time we finally got out of here,” he answered. “No more fires, no more rampant destruction of everything in sight…”

            “Yeah, we’ll just find something new to destroy,” Katsuharu joked.

            Teppei made a face. “Weren’t you the one who kept complaining about how much we destroyed this forest in the first place?”

            Completely oblivious to the ribbing going around, Neemon looked at the trees while keeping a finger on his lower lip, murmuring, “Hmm… Hmm…”

            “What is it?” Koichi asked.

            Everyone looked at Neemon, half-expecting him to say that he was only doing it for fun. Instead, he said, “Hey, Bokomon, don’t these trees look familiar?”

            Bokomon sighed in exasperation. “Neemon, we’re in a forest! All the trees look the same!”

            “No, I really mean it! Something looks familiar!”

            The kids looked at each other in concern. Neemon wasn’t usually this insistent. So they looked more carefully at their surroundings, trying to find anything that stuck out in their memories. The last thing they needed was to have gotten lost again.

            “Nothing really stands out,” Teruo confessed.

            “None of it feels familiar either,” Katsuharu added, putting a hand against a tree trunk.

            “But I know I know it!” Neemon insisted.

            The answer suddenly hit Chiaki, and she asked, “Were you here with Ophanimon’s Warriors before they turned?”

            “You may be onto something,” Bokomon said. “Although, I must confess that everything was so confusing then. It was hard to keep track of everything that was going on, especially after they fell under the spell.”

            “Let’s look around, then,” Katsuharu suggested. “Maybe we’ll find something.”

            “Keep an eye out,” Koichi warned. “Remember, they were attacked here. Something else might be waiting for us too.”

            It felt incredibly strange letting Neemon lead the way, but they had no other choice since he was the only one who recognized the area. He led them through the woods, taking numerous turns as he tried to find…something. To be honest, no one had any idea what they were supposed to be looking for, only that there was some possible connection to their friends. After about ten minutes, they found themselves right back where they started.

            “You know,” Neemon said, “this place looks familiar.” The only response was the sound of six people palming their foreheads in disbelief.

            “I should have known you’d only lead us around in circles,” Bokomon muttered. “All that pointless exertion is not good for the baby!”

            Teppei gave him and the digiegg in his belt an incredulous look. “You’re not pregnant; you’re just babysitting. Quit complaining.”

            “Let’s just stop for lunch,” Katsuharu decided. “We’ll figure out what to do later.”

            Teruo started to dig into their bag of supplies when Teppei complained, “No more cabbage! I ate enough of that stuff yesterday. If there are so many different flavors, how’d I get stuck with the cabbage-flavored cabbage?”

            “I think I saw a tree with a lot of fruit on it,” Katsuharu said, pointedly ignoring his best friend’s whining. He pointed his thumb behind him. “It was a little ways back there.”

            “Sounds good to me,” Chiaki agreed, shrugging.

            Katsuharu led them to a large apple tree. He and Koichi were about to climb up to get some fruit when Bokomon declared in surprise, “It’s the meat-apple tree!”

            “See?” Neemon replied. “I told you I knew we were here!”

            “What’s up with the tree?” Teppei asked.

            “I didn’t realize this before, but we are in the exact forest where Takuya and the others fell under the spell,” Bokomon explained. The others stared at him, jaws dropped and eyes wide. “I think we can even find the campsite from the meat-apple tree.”

            “There might be some kind of clue to what happened there,” Koichi realized. “Do you remember where it was?”

            “Just this way, I think,” he replied.

            They followed a short way to the remains of an old campfire and the rotted cores of several meat-apples. “This is it,” he said. “We were all camping here when Bakumon attacked.”

            “What exactly happened?” Teruo asked, walking closer to the old fire, kicking away the cores as he did so. “Everything.”

            The others gave him confused looks, and finally Chiaki asked, “What is it?”

            “I think we should try acting out what they did that day,” he replied. “Just to get a feel for what they saw. It might help.”

            “You do realize this is creepy as all hell, right?” Teppei asked.

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed. “But I think I’m with him. This is all we’ve got.”

            They decided it would be best if they each played the part of his or her own counterpart while Bokomon narrated their actions. It made the reenactment feel that much odder. Chiaki, for one, could not suppress a shiver down her spine as she played out Zoë’s part to the best of her ability. She looked around at her friends and saw similar reactions. All of them looked disturbed and shaky to some degree. But she couldn’t help but admit that it helped them learn a lot about their old friends. She shot Koichi a sympathetic look; he seemed to be having the hardest time, since this was the only information he’d ever gotten on his brother. And so far from Bokomon’s story, Koji hardly seemed like an easy person to get along with.

            “So here, we discovered the page on the Beast Spirits and realized they could evolve even further,” Bokomon narrated, interrupting her thoughts. “And then…”

            “Does something smell like it’s burning to you?” Koichi interrupted suddenly. Sure enough, there was a distinct smell of smoke.

            Everyone looked over at the fire and saw that the meat apples had caught flame. The kids scrambled to try and save their lunch, nearly knocking the apples into the fire. Bokomon palmed his forehead and declared, “Amazingly, you reenacted that part perfectly without my help.”

            After stopping the near incineration of their lunch, the kids were a lot more at ease. It helped that the next part of the story was impossible to act out during daylight hours, resulting in them sitting and eating while Bokomon told them what happened.

            “Clouds started to cover the moon, and we could hardly see a thing,” he explained. “But it caused light to come from the tree trunks around us.”

            “Wait a second,” Katsuharu cut in. “This is when they saw home, right?”

            “Precisely,” Bokomon replied. “In the TV Forest, the Digital World can get a glimpse of the human world—but it only lasts as long as it stays completely dark. The minute the moonlight shone through the clouds again, the images vanished.” He looked down sadly. “Tommy had just seen his mother through one of the trees, and he cried almost all night when the image faded. It made all the children homesick. J.P. put on a magic show to cheer them up, and when he was done, Tommy stepped away to get another meat-apple.” Bokomon suddenly paused in his story, catching everyone off-guard. “Now that I think about it, he was acting oddly just before we all went to sleep.”

            “How odd?” Teppei asked.

            “He seemed to be in a daze. He dropped the meat-apple he was eating and could barely respond when Takuya and Zoë asked if he was all right.” Bokomon folded his arms over the bulging egg in his belt. “They thought he was just tired, and we all went to bed. That’s probably when he was attacked.”

            “How exactly did Tommy attack you when he was in that nightmare?” Teruo asked. “You never really explained it.”

            “It was like he was sleepwalking,” Bokomon remembered. “He hardly recognized any of us. He kept going on about how the others were going to pay for what they did to him, but they hadn’t done a thing.”

            The kids looked at each other. It certainly sounded like their own experiences with Ophanimon’s Warriors, except for one major detail.

            “But they all recognize us too well,” Chiaki pointed out, following the same line of thought everyone shared. “Zoë, Tommy, and J.P. know what we’ve done to them.”

            “And Takuya remembers how much I used to screw up in soccer,” Teruo added. Then, glancing at Koichi, he shrugged sheepishly. “We don’t know enough about Koji since he doesn’t know you, but he seems to be the same as them.”

            “Also,” Bokomon added, “Takuya fought off the spell by himself and never had the chance to tell us what he saw, other than that Bakumon had convinced Tommy that we were the enemy. We only saved Tommy because Takuya defeated Bakumon and returned him to normal.”

            “Then we’ve got nothing,” Koichi sighed. “They don’t fit with what we know. It might not even be a Bakumon causing the spell.”

            His realization was too disheartening for the others to respond to. Silently, they finished their lunch and threw the cores of their apples in the fire before heading off to pick more apples to throw in with their supplies. Some were kept fresh while others were cooked until they were completely dry, like jerky, so they would last longer on the road.

            They were about to set out again when there was a rustling sound in the trees, and they caught a glimpse of something running away from them. As if they were all on the same train of thought, they took chase, not sure of what they would find. Maybe it was a witness to the attack weeks ago, or maybe it was an enemy. Either way, they stuck close to each other and kept their D-tectors in hand as they ran.

            A second fleeing figure to the side caught Koichi’s attention. He turned to Katsuharu and said, “There’s something else here. I’m going after it.”

            “Be careful,” he warned. “If it’s a Bakumon and you wind up in a nightmare, I don’t think we’d be able to save you. Duskmon’s too damn strong.”

            “I’ll be careful,” he promised before splitting away and running to right.

            “Shouldn’t someone go with him?” Chiaki asked.

            Katsuharu shook his head. “If he goes under the spell, it’ll take all of us to even stand a chance of fighting Duskmon. And if we’re attacked, he’s strong enough to stop us all on his own.”

            “Good point,” she confessed.

            “We’re never going to catch up!” Teppei realized.

            “Chiaki, evolve,” Katsuharu ordered.

            “Already on it,” she replied. “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            Within moments, Ranamon ran ahead of them, taking advantage of her agility to hop from tree trunk to tree trunk to get closer to their quarry. Finally, she’d gotten close enough, and she saw that the lower half of its body seemed to be made of smoke. She stopped for an instant to re-form her D-tector and call the others.

            “It’s a Bakumon, hurry!” she called. There were sounds of Katsuharu and Teppei swearing and evolution cries before she allowed the D-tector to disappear. She slowed down a bit so they could catch up, but not letting the Bakumon out of her sight. There were butterflies in her stomach, and she bit her lip to try and dispel her nervousness. She did not want to risk falling into a spell like Zoë.

            ~~~

            Koichi, meanwhile, heard the message but didn’t risk running back. His mind was screaming at him that the others were running into a trap, but his heart was telling him that he had to keep going. Common sense sided with his heart; he couldn’t risk falling into the trap himself. Duskmon was too powerful to fall in Ophanimon’s hands.

            He wasn’t sure how long he’d been running before he skidded to a stop, staring in shock. Standing no more than ten feet away from him, devolved, was Koji.

            Everything inside him screamed to say something, to tell him everything—the truth about the divorce, Grandma’s deathbed confession… But his voice didn’t seem to work, and he started to take a couple of steps back. Koji smirked, and all Koichi could do was curse his cowardice.

            “You’re nowhere near as confident about facing me as the last time,” Koji noticed. “You almost look scared, ‘Brother.’”

            Koichi gasped and froze, his eyes widened in shock. Did he know? He tried to say something, but his voice was weak and words couldn’t form. Everything he’d mentally readied himself for in the weeks past had completely fallen apart with that one word.

            “I have to admit I didn’t think that word would affect you like this,” Koji said. “You shouldn’t let things slip to your enemies, you know. It lets us use them against you.”

            In the middle of the shocked disarray of his thoughts, one thing finally came through to Koichi’s voice: “Then you know everything?”

            “Maybe I know more,” Koji suggested, his voice not revealing anything. “Or maybe I don’t. Why don’t you enlighten me?”

            Days spent hanging around Teppei had taught Koichi defiance and how to make a sarcastic comment even when scared witless, so he said the first thing that came to mind: “Didn’t you just say I shouldn’t let anything slip to my enemies?”

            “You are the one who brought it up,” Koji pointed out, taking out his D-tector. Koichi tightened his grip on his own. He didn’t want to fight, but it didn’t look like he would have a choice.

            Koichi raised his hand in the air, forming a Fractal Code ring as he shouted, “Execute Spirit Evolution!” But at the exact same instant, Koji held out his hand and formed a near-globe of Code, shouting, “Execute Beast Spirit Evolution!”

            They were both surrounded by Fractal Code at the same time, and the evolutions occurred simultaneously. Above his own screams from the mental stress of his evolution, Koichi could hear similar cries from his brother. He wondered if the Beast Spirit was as bad as the Spirit of Darkness, determined to take control of its wielder completely, shoving their consciousnesses aside. The irony was sickening—only through their overpowering Spirits could Koichi ever feel this connected to Koji.

            Duskmon slashed open his Fractal Code prison and crossed his swords in front of him as the second opened with a shout of “KendoGarurumon!” The white-armored wolf extended the blades on his back and came forward. Duskmon met his advance and the battle began.

            ~~~

            Once evolved, the others were able to catch up to Ranamon quickly, and they kept close together to avoid trouble if one of them was attacked by Bakumon. There was safety in numbers, after all (and they tried not to think about how it didn’t seem to apply for Ophanimon’s Warriors).

            “There he is,” Mercurymon noticed.

            The Bakumon was still flying away in short hops, so Ranamon was able to get ahead of him with her farther leaps. She nearly caught him, but he leapt up into a tree to escape. Arbormon followed, shooting off a limb to try and grab him. He missed, and Mercurymon made a dangerous teleport in midair to try and catch him. He did, but a muffled cry of “Nightmare Syndrome!” made him let go fast before he could be attacked. Mercurymon teleported away to safety while Grumblemon swung his hammer, preventing the attack and throwing Bakumon to the ground. The Warriors dropped back down to the earth and devolved, looking at Bakumon with the utmost loathing.

            Katsuharu wanted to pick him up and slam him against a tree and make him talk, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to get a good grip. Instead, he put as much venom in his voice as he could manage and demanded, “What did you do to Ophanimon’s Warriors?”

            “What?”

            “We’re asking the questions here,” Teppei replied. “What did you do to them? How did you get them under her control?”

            “You mean you’re not…” he started, but he stopped and got up. They only tightened their grips on their digivices and glared harder. “I apologize. I mistook you for Ophanimon’s five.”

            “How?” Teruo asked, still remaining vigilant. “Except for Koichi, none of us look like them.”

            “Most humans look alike,” Bakumon confessed. As the children started to protest, he added, “Can you tell most Digimon apart?” They went silent. “We can’t tell humans apart the same way you can’t tell us apart.”

            “So are you trying to tell us this is a case of mistaken identity?” Chiaki asked, her voice hard.

            “Not exactly,” Bakumon admitted. “I did attack the Warriors, but the Warrior of Flame defeated me and purified my data.”

            “You’re the one Bokomon told us about, then,” Katsuharu realized, relaxing somewhat—but a very small “somewhat.” “What happened to them? Why are they trying to destroy the Digital World?”

            Bakumon sighed. “I was keeping watch over them that night, along with the Warrior of Light. Each time a nightmare started to form in their minds, I ate it before they could see it. They were sound asleep when the attack happened—no less than forty of my kind appeared from the trees and started to attack their minds. I tried to devour the nightmares before they could take root, but it was too much for me to handle. The Warrior of Light woke them up and tried to fight them off, but soon they all started to fall. Ophanimon found their fears and doubts and fed them. Soon, the only one still standing and fighting was the Warrior of Flame, who did not have so many fears and doubts. Instead, Ophanimon fed his pride and wove the nightmare into it.”

            “That explains a lot,” Teruo admitted, and the others nodded.

            “How do we break them out of it?” Chiaki asked.

            Bakumon looked surprised. “You haven’t figured that out? It’s a nightmare—all you have to do is wake them up.”

            “Yeah, but how do we do that?” Teppei asked.

            “Now I can’t have you learning that,” Takuya cut in, walking over. The Warriors immediately got into fighting stances, standing in front of Bakumon protectively. “Glad to see you’re ready for a fight. So am I.” He formed a globe of Fractal Code around his hand.

            “That’s not normal,” Teppei noticed.

            “Remember I said I’d come after you first when I got my Beast Spirit, Teruo?” Takuya asked, and Teruo went pale.

            “Guys, I don’t think I can do this alone,” he whispered. “I know I defeated Seraphimon, but it was an accident…”

            “We’re right behind you,” Chiaki affirmed.

            “Execute Beast Spirit Evolution!” Takuya declared, and the others scrambled to evolve too. They heard his chilling screams during their evolutions and feared what the Beast Spirit was doing to him; after all, Koichi yelled in just the same way each time he evolved. They heard the cry of “BurningGreymon!” mere seconds before their evolutions were complete, and all four of them were thrown to the ground with fire attacks the moment they were finished. Barely managing to hold onto their evolutions, they knew this was going to be a difficult battle.

            ~~~

            The battle was not going well, but the funny thing about it was that it was going badly for both sides. KendoGarurumon was fast, able to make an attack, change direction quickly, and then attack again. Koichi’s desperate hold over control of his Digimon form lowered Duskmon’s reaction speed, resulting in him taking a lot more hits than he would have if Koichi loosened his grip. Yet at the same time, Koji was obviously having a hard time controlling his Beast Spirit, having to take breaks every so often to get his head together. This opened him to attack by Duskmon, preventing him from effectively defending himself. In addition, the trees made it harder for him to maneuver, so his speed was hampered by him having to twist around the wood or cut right through it. Within fifteen minutes, they were standing on opposite sides of the rapidly dwindling wood, panting and trying to retain control over their minds.

            “What do you know?” Duskmon asked.

            “You haven’t even won the battle yet, and you’re still demanding answers?” KendoGarurumon responded.

            “I don’t have a choice!” Duskmon shouted. “It’s the only thing I have left!”

            “What are you talking about?”

            Koichi reined in his pain and anger as much as he could before responding, “You wouldn’t understand.”

            The fight resumed, this time with both of them in far more control than before. Duskmon managed to block a laser blast with his sword before lunging with his swords outstretched. KendoGarurumon dodged and tried to make an attack from behind, but Duskmon leapt in the air to avoid it. In midair, Koichi made a decision he knew he was going to hate himself for later on. He already hated himself for it now, but it was the only thing he could think of. At this rate, he’d never get the answers he needed. This was it.

            He landed and stood his ground as KendoGarurumon turned to attack again. Once he was within range, Duskmon stopped him easily with one hand on his head. There was a small red glow before darkness began to gather around KendoGarurumon.

            “What are you doing?” KendoGarurumon demanded as the darkness heightened in intensity. A sharp, persistent pain suddenly went through his head, and he started screaming.

            Duskmon didn’t answer. He’d already started searching through Koji’s memories, targeting anything that would give him answers. He blocked out the agonized screams and concentrated on finding some clue to what Koji knew. Some of what he saw made rage burn in his heart. He’d seen that Koji had a whole, complete family. But seeing it from the outside was one thing; seeing it from Koji’s memories was another thing entirely. Koji didn’t appreciate anything that he had, arguing with his father and stubbornly refusing to accept his stepmother. He had everything Koichi wanted, and yet he didn’t even see how good he had it. It took every ounce of control Koichi had not to end the search and attack Koji while he was too weak from the memory scan to defend himself. But his need to find out everything outweighed his anger, and he kept searching.

            And finally, he found it. It seemed like a fairly insignificant memory to Koji—just another in a list of things he didn’t agree with his father over. Koichi would have skimmed it over if he hadn’t noticed Koji flipping over a picture frame to reveal a photo of his birth mother—their mother. There was a knock at the door as their father announced his arrival. Koji spun around in his chair to face him, and he noticed the photograph on the desk:

            “Your mom’s photo—I haven’t seen that in a long time. Son, I know it’s been hard since your mom died, but you need to accept your stepmom.”

            Koichi couldn’t believe what he’d just heard, and he completely lost concentration over the rest of the memory. Koji had been told that their mother was dead? Even worse, their own father had told him that? Koichi knew that his mother was hardly innocent herself for keeping the secret, but omission seemed far kinder than an outright lie.

            KendoGarurumon’s screams stopped, and he forced himself to ignore the pain as he said, “Get out of my head!” And despite all odds, he followed it up with a cry of “Lupine Laser!” and a powerful laser attack from his mouth. Duskmon leapt out of the way before it could hit and hid in the safety of one of the remaining trees until Koichi could get himself together.

            How could he tell him that? Koichi asked himself. How could he say Mom was dead? Why would he do that? But soon, he finally realized that Koji didn’t know anything about their connection and that he’d been bluffing to throw him off-guard. And that meant he had no reason to hold back, or to hold on for that matter.

            In a burst of red energy, Duskmon leapt from the tree and attacked.

            ~~~

            Of the different Digimon they had seen, Cherubimon’s Warriors had made a fairly good scale: the least impressive were along the range of Numemon, or Bokomon and Neemon—potentially a threat, but not exactly dangerous. Mid-range were most of the Human Spirits, with Duskmon at the high end of the scale. ShadowSeraphimon, so far, was the highest threat they’d found. BurningGreymon seemed pretty close to Duskmon’s rating on that scale. He looked like some kind of combination of a dragon and a firebird, but with flame-guns on his arms. But that alone wasn’t why they felt so threatened—they’d seen far worse. It was the fact that BurningGreymon’s eyes were completely red—the iris and what was supposed to be white—and the fact that he was very obviously out of control that brought to mind comparisons with Duskmon. And reminders of Duskmon were reason enough to be afraid.

            Ranamon summoned a tightly compressed storm-cloud over BurningGreymon’s head and unleashed a stream of Draining Rain while Mercurymon blocked the Pyro Barrage flame-bullets constantly shot at him. While Mercurymon was crouched down, trying to defend himself, Arbormon leapt up and attacked with a Roundhouse Punt. Grumblemon came from behind, prepared to smack him with his hammer. But BurningGreymon flew into the air suddenly, and his two attackers just managed to keep from hitting each other. In the air, fire began to burn all around his body, and he whipped his tail out at them, shouting, “Wildfire Tsunami!”

            None of the four Warriors could escape the attack. Mercurymon ripped off his shields in agony as the armor around his arms glowed red-hot, and the others had painful burn marks all over their bodies.

            “This might help,” Ranamon offered, forming a cloud over them. A heavy rain issued forth, cooling their burns but weakening their powers. Once she was sure that their burns were cooled enough to prevent further damage, she sent the storm toward BurningGreymon.

            “Teruo, are you okay?” she asked. He was still crouched on the ground, being very careful not to move his arms.

            He shook his head. “My arms—the burns are too bad for me to do anything.”

            “Chiaki, it doesn’t look like your rainstorm is doing anything against Takuya,” Grumblemon noticed, watching steam rise off of BurningGreymon’s body.

            “He keeps evaporating it before it can touch him,” she realized. “We don’t stand a chance against him with his Beast Spirit. He’s out of control.”

            “He still has enough control to attack Teruo the worst,” Arbormon pointed out as BurningGreymon returned his attention to the Warrior of Steel.

            They tried to intercept his attack, but he threw them off easily. He was too strong, and Mercurymon felt that strength throw him into two trees, breaking his mirrors and nearly his spine in the process. With gasping breaths, he forcibly devolved, seeing his Fractal Code remain in place rather than disappear back into his body. The Spirit of Steel was right in front of him, and BurningGreymon looked dead-set on taking it.

            A loud battle cry and a strong wave of muddy water separated the two, however. Protected by the temporary wall, Arbormon and Grumblemon situated themselves right between Teruo and BurningGreymon while Ranamon went over to help Teruo to his feet. He was able to grasp her hand, which gave them both immense relief to see he wasn’t paralyzed, but standing was the hard part. He got to his feet clumsily, and when Ranamon tried to come over to support him, she touched his Fractal Code, making him scream out in pain. It was as if an electrical shock had gone right through him, and he fell again.

            “Teruo, I really hope you can pull yourself together soon,” Arbormon muttered. “Otherwise, we’re all dead.” Teruo nodded weakly and concentrated on pulling his data back into himself. Once he had, Arbormon ordered, “All right, now let’s get out of here!”

            Ranamon put an arm around Teruo’s body and half-carried him away while the others covered them from behind. Grumblemon had formed his D-tector again, trying to call Koichi for help, but there was no response. So the only thing they could do was run to safety while the forest burned behind them.

            ~~~

            Since the Digital World’s creation, the Forest Kingdom had never seen such rampant destruction as it had that day—not in all the wars that had plagued the Digital World. In one fight, Duskmon and KendoGarurumon had completely emptied a few square kilometers of anything living. The fauna residents of the forest were mostly able to escape the devastation; the trees, however, were nowhere near as lucky. Dead wood littered the ground like the bodies of soldiers who had lost a horrible war.

            The fallen trees were making it extremely difficult for KendoGarurumon to maneuver. He no longer had the room to accelerate, cutting down on the effectiveness of his attacks. He almost considered switching forms to Lobomon, but that was completely out of the question. He would not stand a chance. As it was, he was barely able to hold his own.

            Koji hardly knew a thing about Duskmon, but all the same, he’d noticed the changes. He was faster, stronger, and far more ruthless than any other time they’d fought. Gone was the desperation and fear of the child beneath the armor. In his place was a demon who truly fit Duskmon’s form. KendoGarurumon had enough slashes and dents in his armor to support that theory. Duskmon was by far the most dangerous opponent he’d ever faced.

            “What are you?” he demanded, narrowly avoiding a swipe at his neck. Duskmon was also far more competent with his swords than before—another good reason not to slide evolve to Lobomon; Koji was a good swordsman, but not that good.

            “Why should I let that slip?” Duskmon replied. “After all, you could use it against me—if you could handle it.” KendoGarurumon growled. Duskmon was also a lot cockier.

            They came to another forested area, KendoGarurumon keeping his back to it. If he was lucky, he could escape, devolve, and leave Duskmon searching the forest for him. But the Warrior of Darkness held out his swords and started spinning around rapidly. KendoGarurumon never felt a thing, but everything around him did—more trees fell to the ground, and the ones already still on the ground had almost been reduced to splinters.

            He’s too strong, Koji realized. I’m going to get killed if I stay here. But escape hardly seemed like an option anyway. For all the planning and all the expectations he had done, Duskmon had managed to throw him off-guard. He was trapped.

            “If you’re so curious about what I am, here’s a hint,” Duskmon said, slashing at him again. KendoGarurumon met the attack with a blade attack of his own. For a second, it felt like Duskmon had caught his blade with his swords, giving him just enough time to say, “I’m exactly like you.” The next thing Koji knew, he’d been thrown to the ground and devolved. He was sore all over and bleeding, and it took him some time to remember how to breathe.

            “What do you mean?” he asked once he could breathe. “And why did you look through my memories?”

            There was a cold, almost sadistic laugh. “You’re supposed to be the smart one. You figure it out.” And with that, he retracted his swords and turned to walk away.

            Koji stared at him in shock. “You’re just letting me live?”

            “I never intended to kill you,” he replied, and Koji gaped even more.

            Duskmon started to walk away, but stumbled momentarily, devolving almost forcefully. Koichi looked back at Koji with hatred and anger, and for the life of him, Koji couldn’t figure out why.

            “Better learn to appreciate your family before you lose it, Brother,” he said in almost the same mocking voice Koji had used earlier. And he walked off away from the desolation, not looking back.

            ~~~

            The others had managed to get out of the forest by the time Koichi found them. They were bandaging Teruo’s arms and adding burn ointment to their own wounds when he sat down, glaring at nothing.

            “What happened?” Chiaki asked. “You didn’t answer our calls.”

            “I ran into Koji,” he answered, barely suppressing the anger in his voice. “And I lost control.”

            The others all halted and looked at each other, confused about what to do. Finally, Chiaki asked, “Are you okay?”

            “No,” Koichi replied, the venom only increasing. “I feel angry and betrayed—and by someone I don’t even know!”

            “What did Koji do?” Teppei asked hesitantly.

            “Not him,” Koichi nearly growled. “My father—he told him our mother was dead, just so he’d accept that other woman. He might as well have said I don’t exist.” Everyone stared as he started yelling, “How could my parents hate each other this much? We’re brothers, and neither of us was allowed to know! I thought Mom was just keeping it from me until I was old enough to handle it, but hearing this makes me think different!”

            “Maybe Koji was just lying to you,” Teppei suggested.

            “Memories don’t lie,” Koichi answered. “I saw everything. Koji’s even more clueless about it than I was.”

            With that, his shoulders sagged, and he stared at the ground. Everyone could almost see the rage burning off of him. For a while, no one knew what to do or say. Ultimately, it was Teruo, bandaged and beaten, who pulled himself over. He’d started to think of Koichi as a friend since the day before, and he was doing what he could to keep him as a friend.

            “What if we’re your family?” he asked. Koichi didn’t respond. “I know we’re a lousy replacement, but we’re really all each other have right now. And it’s not like our families are perfect either. Some of us are a little worse off than others, I guess. Honestly, we’ve all gotten a lot closer since we met in Steel Town, and it’s only been a few days since then. And we’re going to get closer. So even if it’s not much, it might help.”

            Koichi nodded before looking up at them and saying softly, “Thanks.”

            Teruo grinned. “No problem.”

            “Come on, guys,” Katsuharu urged. “Let’s find a Trailmon and go.” Everyone nodded, long past ready to leave the Forest Kingdom behind.

 

This chapter was heavily influenced by the Justice League Unlimited episode “Epilogue,” mixed with Frontier reruns on Youtube. Major thanks to Ryan Griffin for his help throughout. Title comes from the Josh Groban song “Let Me Fall.”

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Ten: “Another Side, Another Story”

            Late in the afternoon, Cherubimon’s Warriors sat in a small station outside the Forest Kingdom, in far too much pain to go on any farther. Not long ago, they had gotten a call from Cherubimon, saying that a messenger would meet them there before long. Teruo took the opportunity to sleep off some of the effects of being beaten so thoroughly that his Fractal Code had appeared, while everyone else tried to deal with their physical and mental trauma.

            “Feeling any better?” Chiaki asked Koichi, who had been extremely quiet since his outburst earlier.

            “A little,” he admitted. “It’s just hard to deal with.”

            “I can imagine,” she agreed, handing him a flask of water. He took it because he felt like he needed to hold onto something, more than because he was thirsty.

            “I still can’t figure out why my father would say something like that,” he said. “And why my parents would separate Koji and me like this.”

            “Maybe there aren’t any answers,” Chiaki suggested. “There probably aren’t any easy ones to begin with.” Koichi nodded. “But don’t worry. I’m sure things will work out. We’ve almost got an answer of how to save the others.”

            “Hey,” Teppei cut in, looking toward the forest. “Isn’t that Bakumon?”

            Koichi had nearly pulled out his D-tector when Chiaki warned, “Don’t. This one’s on our side.” Nodding, he put it away.

            Bakumon was singed and exhausted when he made his way over to them. Koichi handed over the water flask, and Bakumon drained it quickly.

            “Hey, you made it away from Takuya,” Katsuharu noticed.

            “Yes, but the Forest Kingdom is no longer safe,” Bakumon replied, still sounding out of breath. “Much of our area was destroyed from your battle and another one.” Koichi flinched but otherwise didn’t comment.

            “Why’d you come all this way to find us?” Chiaki asked.

            “I never finished explaining to you how to wake Ophanimon’s Warriors,” Bakumon explained. He started to continue, but the sleeping Teruo grimaced and started to moan. A wisp of darkness left him and came over to Bakumon, who devoured it quickly. Teruo calmed instantly. “He shouldn’t remember that when he wakes.”

            “So, you were saying?” Teppei asked.

            “Oh, yes,” Bakumon replied, returning to the subject. “The nightmare is an illusion they’re caught in. When I first attacked Flame and Ice, I made them see their friends attacking them. Flame managed to break free simply because he couldn’t believe that they would do such a thing. He held onto reality.”

            “So is that what they’re seeing?” Koichi asked. “Is the dream that we’re their enemies?”

            “The nightmare is probably different,” Bakumon said, “but the premise is the same: a warped view of reality. Remind them of what is real, and that should wake them.”

            “Okay, piece of cake,” Teppei replied. “Why isn’t it working then?”

            “It isn’t as easy as it sounds,” Bakumon warned. “The nightmare is tied to their fears and beliefs. Breaking the nightmare requires you to shatter their beliefs.” Unconsciously, the others started to look at Koichi, who nodded solemnly.

            “Thanks for the warning,” Katsuharu answered. “Where are you headed now?”

            “I’m not sure, but I’ll try to find a large town,” he decided. “Someplace that can defend itself well.”

            “Good luck,” Katsuharu replied as Bakumon left. Then he sighed, “Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

            “Hey!” cried a childlike voice, and the others turned to see a Terriermon gliding on the wind, carrying a package. “Are you guys Lord Cherubimon’s Warriors?”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu answered. “Why?”

            “Got something for you from Lord Cherubimon,” Terriermon answered, landing and placing the package down. “He said only one of you could handle it. It’s been weighing me down for days.”

            “Looks like yours,” Teppei told Koichi, seeing the emblem of the Spirit of Darkness.

            Nodding, Koichi came over and held out his D-tector, breaking whatever seal had been placed on the package. It opened, revealing the Beast Spirit. The Spirit looked like nothing more than a bird with its wings folded around itself, but there were chains all around it—chains that everyone could tell had been placed there by Cherubimon to restrain its power. And even with those chains, everyone could feel its destructive rage and power. Everyone shivered, including Teruo, who hadn’t woken at all. Katsuharu was about to tell Koichi to forget the whole thing when Koichi took a deep breath and held his D-tector to the Beast Spirit. A beam of light shot out of the digivice, capturing the Spirit, but everyone could swear that one of the chain-links had broken in the process.

            Suddenly, Koichi dropped to his knees, breathing heavily. He brought his hands to his head, screaming as the new Spirit tried to take over him. After a few minutes of nobody knowing what to do, he stopped screaming and got to his feet, his breathing far too calm for anyone’s comfort. He then raised his left arm into the air, forming a globe of corrupted Fractal Code around his hand. He was about to scan it when Katsuharu tackled him, knocking his head against the platform and waking him up.

            “W-what happened?” Koichi asked shakily. Katsuharu breathed a sigh of relief before getting up and helping him stand.

            “Do us a favor,” he replied. “Never use that Beast Spirit. I don’t care if it’s a matter of life or death—run and leave us before you have to use it. It’s way too strong for you.”

            Koichi refused to meet his eyes. “I can’t make that promise, Katsuharu. If I have to evolve, I will. I can’t abandon you guys.”

            Katsuharu sighed and muttered, “Stupid,” before walking to the other side of the station. Koichi took a seat and looked at his D-tector with a blank face. Teppei, Chiaki, and the now awakened Teruo watched with mixed feelings.

            “That was interesting and all,” Terriermon cut in, “but can I get paid now?” The three stared at him in disbelief. “What? I’m not doing this for free, you know!”

            ~~~

            Takuya came to the clearing, bruised and sore but grinning and waving at his friends as he declared, “Well, it took a while, but I finally got control of that Beast Spirit. Wish I had that control when I fought Cherubimon’s Warriors, but at least the fight went well.”

            “It went okay?” Tommy asked hesitantly.

            “Yeah, of course,” Takuya answered. “Why?”

            “We had a little problem getting Koji to talk about his fight,” Zoë replied. Koji maintained a blank expression while bandaging a cut on his upper arm.

            “What happened?” Takuya asked.

            “I fought Duskmon and things went bad, all right?” Koji replied tersely, tucking the end of the bandage underneath the wraps. Carefully, he tried to flex his arm, making a face at the tightness of the bandage. Then, pulling on his jacket, he added, “And we need to steal more supplies. We’re out of bandages.”

            Takuya gaped. “But I just picked some up four days ago!”

            “And I just used up half of them,” Koji responded. He took a second to calm down before adding, “I underestimated Duskmon again. But now I know for sure—he’s way too strong for us to handle.”

            “Maybe without our Beast Spirits,” Takuya replied. “But once we get them all, we’ll be fine. J.P., didn’t you just find yours?”

            “Yeah, but I think you might want to listen to Koji on this one,” J.P. warned.

            “Look, guys, I really think we can handle him without a problem once all five of us have our Beast Spirits,” Takuya insisted. “We already know how to fight against the others, and we’ve gotten pretty close to winning. The only reasons we lost were because they got lucky—they managed to find their Spirits or someone was in the right place at the right time and made such a huge fluke that somehow made them win. But now we’re stronger. I had four of them running for their lives after I evolved. They’re not going to be able to fight for a while. I say we should take this chance to find the last two Beast Spirits and take them down. Once the other four are down for the count, then all five of us can team up against Duskmon. He’s strong and out of his mind, but he’s only got a Human Spirit. That’s nothing compared to us.”

            Koji glared at him, stood up, and said, “Takuya, can I talk to you in private for a second?” Without even waiting for an answer, he grabbed him by the arm and dragged him through the forest.

            “What’s up?” Takuya asked.

            “I need to show you something,” Koji answered. Half a kilometer later, he pointed out the deforested region of the Forest Kingdom. Takuya stared at it in horror.

            “What happened here?” he asked.

            “This is where Duskmon and I fought,” Koji explained. “Not even half of the damage is my fault.”

            “Are you sure?” Takuya asked. “I mean, I know Duskmon’s strong, but this?”

            “He’s a lot stronger than you think,” Koji replied. “You only fought him once, and he was fighting both of us. We were fine then. Both times I fought him alone, he nearly killed me. But he held back every time.”

            “Okay,” Takuya answered, not really understanding what Koji meant. “I know he’s strong, but we are too. We can take him down so long as there’s more of us. You just said it yourself—you did better against him when you had me to back you up.”

            “You’re not listening to me, are you?” Koji asked. He pointed at the devastation. “Look! Everything you see here was from our battle. Even with my Beast Spirit, I didn’t stand a chance against him. I couldn’t even move!”

            “Then we just fight him where he won’t have an advantage,” Takuya insisted.

            Koji growled in frustration. “It’s not going to work! We’ll all get killed! The Warrior of Darkness is too dangerous.”

            “What about catching him off-guard? You said you heard him mention his brother…”

            “I tried that already! He could barely fight me, but once he scanned my memories, that changed.”

            “Wait a second, he scanned your memories?” Takuya repeated.

            “That’s not the point!” Koji yelled. “The point is that something inside him snapped. His personality changed completely. Just before that, he’d been telling me that he needed to know if I knew about his brother because it was all he had left. Immediately after, he was a different person. He was cold and sadistic—he laughed as he threw me to the ground and forced me to devolve. When he devolved, he just stared at me with so much hatred. When I asked why he was letting me live, he said that he never meant to kill me.”

            “So what’s that supposed to mean?” Takuya asked cautiously.

            “I took martial arts for a few years,” Koji explained. “I know when someone’s pulling their punches. With him, I could barely tell, but I think I believe him. That’s the only reason why I’m still alive and in better shape than I should be. When he’s sane, he can hardly keep up, and I stand a chance. But piss him off, make him lose control, and he’s completely different. Remember what Lord Seraphimon said about the Spirit? The Warrior of Darkness should have lost his mind a long time ago. It happens when he evolves, and I’ve seen it twice now. Sometimes he manages to control himself, and sometimes he doesn’t. When he can’t, he’s that much stronger.”

            “Then we get the Spirit away from him,” Takuya answered. “Solves their problem and solves ours.”

            “It’s not that simple,” Koji said through clenched teeth. “Getting the Spirit means we have to fight him first, and I don’t think he even used half his strength to destroy all this. You’re not the only one leading this team, Takuya. I am not letting you risk our lives like this.”

            “You’ve got to have more faith in us!” Takuya shouted. “Sure, Duskmon’s strong, but he doesn’t rely on his team. He always fights alone. There’s five of us—if we all work together, I know we can bring him down!”

            In any other situation, Koji would have remembered that he was still badly injured from his battle with Duskmon. But Takuya always had a talent for angering him to the point that reason, common sense, and everything else were completely forgotten. So immediately after punching Takuya, Koji cried out in pain and clutched his arm. Not only had the sudden movement pained his injured arm, but it also had aggravated the other wounds in his body, as if in a chain reaction of pain.

            Takuya rubbed his aching jaw and yelled back, “What the hell did you do that for?”

            Managing to block out the pain for the moment, Koji glared at Takuya and said in a dangerously calm voice, “It’s obvious you don’t care about yourself, but promise me the others won’t get hurt. ‘Cause if you can’t, then go home now. I won’t let you risk their lives.” And then he turned and started to head in the opposite direction.

            “Where are you going?” Takuya demanded. “We’re not done here!”

            “I’m getting some supplies, since someone was stupid enough to destroy the only major town around here,” Koji answered in a voice that plainly said they were done here. Takuya growled in anger. “If you need help, call.” Angrily, Takuya kicked at the fallen leaves and branches before returning to camp.

            “Hey, where’s Koji?” J.P. asked once Takuya stalked back.

            “You two didn’t get into a fight again, did you?” Zoë sighed, noticing the red mark on Takuya’s jaw.

            “He’s looking for more supplies,” Takuya answered bitterly. “I’m going to get some water.”

            “I’ll go with you,” Tommy volunteered. Takuya shrugged, too caught up in his rage against Koji to give much thought to anything else at the moment. Zoë sighed and shook her head.

            “I still can’t believe they consider themselves best friends after all these fights,” she muttered.

            “I doubt we’ll ever get them,” J.P. agreed. Then, looking around, he added, “We might as well get food for tonight. Knowing them, they won’t come back until at least sunset.”

            “Yeah,” Zoë said resignedly.

            They started searching the bushes and trees for fruit or nuts. There were some meat-apples around, but they didn’t want to risk making a fire if they were only going to leave again. These things happened often now that they were in Ophanimon’s employ; it wasn’t exactly easy to walk into town without causing panic. Their camps were as temporary as they could make them, and they always needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Often, it meant they spent a night cold and lightless.

            Zoë was humming as she picked berries from a bush. Hearing it, J.P. said, “Hey, I’ve never heard that song before. What is it?”

            “Oh, just something I heard in Italy,” she replied. “It was written in memory of a famous tenor, and since my parents always played opera, they found this song and got me hooked.”

            “You know, you never mentioned why you were in Italy,” he realized. “Two years, right?”

            “Yep,” she answered. “My mom is actually half-Italian, and a couple of years ago, she got the chance to work in Italy, so she moved us over there in a heartbeat. I knew a little Italian from my grandparents, and I caught onto it quickly. Though, I’m not so good with Japanese.”

            “You sound fine to me,” J.P. replied.

            “It’s reading that’s my problem,” Zoë admitted. “I can understand the simpler characters, but I have a lot more trouble the more complicated they get. And you know how I keep mixing up Italian and Japanese—saying something in Italian when I know you won’t understand it? That habit didn’t make me popular with the other girls. They thought I was being pretentious, so I have a hard time making friends.”

            “How many friends did you have in Italy?”

            “A lot,” she confessed. “And I miss them and everything about Rome. I was so homesick the first few months when we moved back to Japan…it didn’t help at all.”

            “Yeah, I can imagine,” he replied.

            “What about you?” she asked.

            “What?” he asked, caught off-guard.

            “You’re always helping everyone out, trying to keep Takuya and Koji from killing each other, or trying to be the responsible one, or you’ll try and cheer us up with magic or chocolate. Why didn’t you have many friends?”

            Surprised and embarrassed, J.P. answered, “It’s just how things worked out!”

            “I’m sorry,” Zoë insisted. “I’m always doing this—hurting people’s feelings by mistake. I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

            “No, it’s okay,” J.P. replied. “The kids at school liked me, but they didn’t like me enough to be a friend, that’s all.”

            “Well, at least they liked you,” she answered, suddenly becoming very interested in the berries.

            “Yeah,” he agreed, switching his attention to the search for food. It was going to be a long, awkward silence until the others came back.

            ~~~

            “I can’t believe that jerk,” Takuya muttered, kicking a rock all the way through the walk. “Doesn’t believe in us, always has to have the last word…”

            “Yeah,” Tommy murmured hesitantly. Takuya raised an eyebrow and looked at him.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “You just got me thinking about Yutaka,” he admitted. “He was always the same.”

            “Oh?” Takuya asked, intrigued. Tommy tried not to talk about his college-age brother; they did not get along at all.

            “Yeah,” Tommy replied. “He was always mean to me, telling me I was a baby and that I needed to grow up.”

            “You’ve grown up now,” Takuya pointed out. “You’re the Warrior of Ice—how could he argue with that?”

            “You don’t know Yutaka,” Tommy said. “He’d figure out something. He’s never nice. I know he had school and couldn’t play with me a lot ‘cause he’s so much older than me, but why did he always have to pick on me?” The comment hit Takuya like a blow to the gut, but Tommy didn’t notice. “And just because Mom and Dad love me, it doesn’t mean I’m spoiled. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

            “Well, Tommy, sometimes that’s what big brothers do,” Takuya confessed, trying to recover from the shock of hearing something that sounded oddly like his brother Shinya’s complaints. “It’s not an easy job.”

            “I know,” he admitted. “But he could at least try to be nice to me.” When Takuya didn’t answer, he asked, “Is something wrong?”

            “Uh, no,” he answered. “Just thinking about stuff, you know?” Tommy nodded, and Takuya inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. He hated admitting when he was wrong, but now he was starting to have doubts about the way he’d acted toward his little brother back home.

            Maybe I’ll give it a shot, he considered. But after this is all over. There was still a lot of work to be done in the Digital World, and he wasn’t going to fail Lady Ophanimon. Maybe once they’d won, he’d be able to try a nicer approach to Shinya. He’d at least have the victory to cheer him up if the brat ever got on his nerves, anyway.

            ~~~

            Koji knew he was pushing himself by walking several kilometers to the nearest village or settlement while badly injured, but right now, all he cared about was finding some supplies and putting as much distance between himself and Takuya as humanly possible. The Warrior of Flame was his best friend, but it was just so hard to think with him around—a trait, Koji suspected, Takuya was rubbing off on him.

            He stopped for a minute and leaned against a tree, trying to catch his breath. He was still tired, aching, and bleeding from the battle, and to boot, his head was throbbing from the memory scan. Having Duskmon invading his mind like that was not fun.

            “What was he so interested in anyway?” he muttered. Thinking aloud was a bad habit of his, but it helped him reason things out a lot better than silent thought did. “He said he wanted to know how much I knew about his brother, but he went after my memories of my family. And then he freaked out seeing how I am around Dad and Satomi.”

            He was still upset about that. Getting physically beaten up in a battle was one thing, but a mental attack was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. His memories and thoughts were private, and he hated Duskmon for crossing that line and looking into his mind. Yet he couldn’t help but wonder about that look of hatred he’d gotten from the human Warrior of Darkness, and why it was this specific memory that caused such a reaction. It was true that Koji and his father often had disagreements—especially when it came to the subject of his stepmother—but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant the warning he’d gotten.

            “Why that memory?” Koji asked. Duskmon had seen everything else in flashes, but he stopped at that specific memory. What had made him want to see it through? “Was it my mom’s picture?” But that didn’t make sense; why would Duskmon care about Koji’s dead mother? Was it pity?

            Koji scowled. “I don’t need his pity.”

            Putting aside these thoughts, he resumed his trek. There was no point to wondering any of this. He had a job to do, and he wasn’t going to let himself get distracted. He at least still remembered that his friends would need help. That was first priority now. Everything else would wait.

            ~~~

            Dinner was at least an hour after sunset, and even then not everyone had arrived. Tommy came back with water, saying that Takuya had mentioned something about needing to practice and wouldn’t be back until later. Koji made it back even later, carrying a bag of bandages, food, water bottles, and medicine. No one asked how he’d gotten it; it had become a personal policy that they no longer asked. None of them were all that proud of how many times they’d been forced to steal or kill for what they needed to survive. It had been so much easier in the days before, when they were naïve enough to think that they could save the world a little bit at a time. Back then, their reputations could pay for their dinners, and they didn’t have to sneak around towns. But no matter how hard it was now, they knew it would eventually pay off. They were fixing the world now; Lady Ophanimon had opened their eyes to everything that was wrong with the Digital World, and they now knew that sometimes to cure an illness, it was necessary to cut off or destroy what was diseased.

            They ate in an unusual silence, each of the four brooding over his or her own personal issues. When hours passed and Takuya still hadn’t shown, Koji took off into the woods to find him. They all knew it would be easier just to call him, but right now, they wanted some time away from each other. It wasn’t normally this way, but Cherubimon’s Warriors were making it hard on them. They’d been forced to split apart to search for Beast Spirits and try and hold off their specific opponents. It was hard.

            Takuya was half-limping back to camp when Koji ran into him, almost literally. They stared at each other silently in the night, refusing to apologize or admit any wrongdoing. Then finally, Takuya asked, “How exactly do you admit that maybe you could’ve been a better brother? And that maybe your friends have a point?”

            “You’re asking me?” Koji replied. “I don’t know anything about that.”

            Takuya smirked. “Maybe not the first part, but the second you could try.” Koji snorted and handed over a fresh roll of bandages, which Takuya wrapped around his injured leg. Then the two of them made their way back to camp, certain that sooner or later, the team would be back to normal.

            ~~~

            They’d been in the Trailmon for hours, and Koichi and Katsuharu were still sitting on opposite ends of the car. Teruo, Teppei, and Chiaki had long since given up trying to play peacemaker and had fallen asleep. Bokomon, meanwhile, added annotations to his book and snapped Neemon’s waistband for trying to play with Seraphimon’s egg. For the most part, everything was silent, and Katsuharu was doing what he could to try and ignore Koichi. They hadn’t spoken to each other since the near-evolution earlier that day, and Katsuharu was still angry. Koichi knew how dangerous his Spirits were, and he still wouldn’t refuse to use the Beast Spirit? It didn’t make sense, not for him.

            “Katsuharu?” Koichi whispered, coming over just as Katsuharu was about to fall asleep. He did all he could not to roll his eyes. Great. Now Koichi wanted to talk.

            “What?” he asked. He wasn’t swayed by the look of guilt. He’d been a bully for a long time; it would take a lot more than Koichi’s regretful face to crack him.

            “I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry for dividing the team like this,” he apologized. “It’s the last thing I wanted to do.”

            Katsuharu shrugged indifferently. “Fine.”

            “But I’m still not giving up my Beast Spirit,” Koichi insisted. “I don’t plan on using it until I absolutely have to, and I want you to know that nothing you say can change my mind.”

            Katsuharu sighed in exasperation. “You know what that thing’ll do to you. Why do you still insist on using it?”

            Koichi closed his eyes for a moment before answering, “I don’t have a lot of friends back home, and it feels like I keep losing everyone I love. I finally have the power to help the people I care about. Please don’t ask me not to use that power.”

            “That doesn’t make sense,” Katsuharu pointed out, shaking his head. “Sure, you have the power, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you’re just going to lose control. You’ll wind up hurting the people you’re trying to protect. I’ve been a bully—I know all about the emptiness that comes with power.”

            Koichi smiled sadly. “Then I guess you’ve been lonely too, because that’s just as empty a feeling.” Katsuharu didn’t answer. “I can’t promise anything because I’m so desperate right now. If everything’s going to fall apart, I don’t want to stand back and let that happen. Even if I fail, I need to try.”

            He was about to walk back to the other side of the car when Katsuharu called out, “Just hold off on it, okay? Right now, Duskmon’s enough help.” Koichi nodded and sat down, watching the stars pass by as they headed for the next town.

 

The title comes from the original trailer for Kingdom Hearts II. The song Zoë was humming is supposed to be “Caruso,” written by Lucio Dalla and dedicated to Enrico Caruso. And yes, one line from Koji and Takuya’s argument was almost lifted word-for-word from canon—thanks to Ryan Griffin for that little suggestion, among other ideas and help for the chapter.

And as a note, one review last chapter bothered me greatly. To set the record straight: I will never bash any character in any of my fics. Any opinions you see are intended to be the opinions of the characters, blinded to various degrees by different cognitive biases. My characters are human, and prone to making mistakes and being biased. Nothing is ever black and white.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Eleven: “Control”

            The rain fell in sheets, drenching them thoroughly. Teruo kept his arms close to his body in a futile attempt to try and keep the bandages dry while they made their way across the wet sand and stone. It had been weeks since they’d left the Forest Kingdom, recovering in different towns along the way, and every last one of the townsfolk had insisted they spend some time at this beach if they were trying to steal some rest time. Unfortunately, the rainstorm was making things difficult.

            “Where was this rain when the Forest Kingdom was burning?” Teppei complained. Then, seeing a grinning Chiaki, he added, “And you are way too happy over this. What happened to the misery from last time?”

            “I was sick then,” she reminded him. “I love the rain, especially after how hot it’s been lately.” And indeed, it had been very hot for the past few days. The heat had even been bothering Teruo’s burns, and they’d visited six different doctors and healers to be sure that he was healing. They’d boosted his recovery system, but it was still going to be a while before he would be back to normal, and even then, there would be some scarring. Their saving grace was that Ophanimon’s Warriors hadn’t attacked. They did not want to face down Takuya when they were one man down, even if Koichi was supposed to have better control over his Spirit now.

            “It’s a nice change,” Koichi admitted, “but we’re going to need to find some shelter.”

            “It looks like there’s something up ahead,” Katsuharu noticed, shielding his eyes from the water. “Doesn’t look all that big, but it’ll at least keep us dry.”

            “Then let’s get there already,” Teppei urged, trying to shield his soaked glasses. “I can’t see a thing out here.”

            They were so desperate to get out of the rain that the second they reached the sandy stretch of beach, they broke into a run. The sand was dense from the rain, making it fairly easy to run. Bokomon complained about the exertion, but everyone ignored him. The only thing on their minds was to get somewhere warm and dry.

            Koichi and Katsuharu were the fastest and thus came to a sudden halt when they saw the four Toucanmon standing inside the covered restaurant. Chiaki, Teruo, and Teppei bumped right into them, looking at them with confusion over the sudden stop. But upon seeing the Toucanmon, they understood. For a moment, both sides seemed to consider each other silently.

            “Is it all right if we stay here to wait out the rain?” Teruo asked finally.

            “Sure, no problem!” answered the Toucanmon that appeared to be the leader. “Stay as long as you want.”

            “Thank God,” Teppei breathed, pulling off his glasses and stepping inside.

            They sat down at one of the tables, gratefully accepting towels and plates of hot food. The rice and meat filled them while soup freed them from the wet chill. The Toucanmon hovered the whole time, bringing more food when it was needed.

            “Wow, you guys were really hungry,” one observed. Each of the kids had eaten at least two helpings, and Bokomon and Neemon had each polished off four or more.

            “Best meal we’ve had in a month,” Katsuharu said, and everyone nodded. “Thanks. We’ve been traveling for a few weeks now, so we really needed that.”

            “Where are you guys coming from?” the leader asked.

            “The Forest Kingdom,” Katsuharu replied, noticing that his friends were too tired, cold, or hungry to carry on the conversation. “We got into a few fights along the way, and we’re just looking for some time to rest and recover. As you can see, one of my friends hurt his arms.” Teruo turned bright pink and tried to concentrate on finishing the broth left in his bowl.

            “How’d you get into so many fights?” asked another Toucanmon.

            The kids looked at each other, debating whether or not to reveal their identities. Koichi shrugged, so Katsuharu answered, “We’re Cherubimon’s Warriors.” The Toucanmon started to gasp, but Katsuharu said, “Keep it down! We don’t really want to let too many people know. We’re trying to keep out of trouble this time.” The Toucanmon put their wings over their beaks, signifying that they’d keep quiet about it. “Anyway, thanks for the food.”

            The kids started to hand over money, but another of the Toucanmon stopped them. “We can’t possibly take your money! Please, do us the honor of staying for as long as you need!”

            Everyone looked at each other, and Chiaki confessed, “It is getting late, and it’s not like we’re going to get anywhere with this storm.”

            “Please wait here,” insisted one of the Toucanmon. “We’ll get rooms ready for you and dry clothes for you to change into.”

            After a few minutes, the Toucanmon brought them to three rooms, prepared with futons, blankets, and fresh clothes. Two rooms had two futons each, with smaller ones set aside for Bokomon and Neemon. The third had a single one, for Chiaki.

            “So…” Katsuharu said once he’d found his voice. “Usual arrangements?”

            “Please trade with me, someone!” Teppei begged just as the others started to shrug noncommittally. “Katsuharu, you snore like a freight train. And unfortunately, you could sleep through a freight train too.”

            “You’re hardly making a trade sound appealing,” Chiaki pointed out, but Koichi replied, “I’ll trade.”

            “You will?” Teppei asked in surprise.

            “It’s no problem,” Koichi assured.

            “Thanks,” Teppei breathed. “Looks like tonight, I’ll actually be sleeping for a change.”

            Katsuharu whacked him upside the head and said, “Come on, let’s dry off.”

            ~~~

            Hot showers and soft beds were a welcome change after weeks of cool rivers and sleeping on the ground. And the Toucanmon had even found sleepwear for them, to boot. The minute they lay down on the futons, every single one of them fell fast asleep.

            It was sometime past midnight when Chiaki got out of bed and tiptoed out to get a drink of water. The rain had stopped, but the humidity had set in. Even in her light cotton pajamas, she was hot. She drank two cups of water before she started to head back to her room. But on the way, she bumped into Koichi.

            “What are you doing?” she whispered, holding her heart and trying to catch her breath from the scare.

            “Sorry,” he whispered back. “I didn’t think anyone else was up.”

            “It’s okay,” she replied. “Are you okay? Katsuharu’s not keeping you awake, is he?”

            “No,” Koichi answered, looking a little embarrassed in the light of the three moons. “I just wanted to get in a little training, that’s all.”

            “Training?” she repeated.

            “Yeah,” he confessed. “The past few nights, I’ve been working on controlling Duskmon. I’ve almost got it down, but I didn’t want anyone to know—especially not Katsuharu, after our fight that time.”

            “You’re not using your Beast Spirit?” she checked, but he shook his head.

            “No, just Duskmon. It’s been getting a little easier, but I’m still a little dizzy and tired afterwards. That’s why I’ve been doing it at night: so I can sleep in the next day.”

            “But the Spirit’s stronger at night, right?” she asked. “We’re all stronger around our elements.” Koichi nodded. “Then how about you and I both train tonight?”

            He blinked in surprise. “You’ll help?”

            “Of course,” she insisted. “You’re my friend, and you do need help. I can’t sit back and let you struggle through this on your own.”

            He smiled in relief. “Thanks.”

            They walked barefoot to the beach, getting far enough away from the restaurant so that their evolutions wouldn’t wake anyone. Even so, they whispered their evolution cries, and Koichi tried his hardest not to scream from his evolution. Even though he had the power to control it, it was still rather painful.

            “Are you ready?” Ranamon asked. In lieu of answering, Duskmon extended his swords. Ranamon sighed in disappointment; it didn’t look like Koichi had controlled it at all.

            His first attack was clumsy, and Ranamon leapt away from it easily. But as she landed on the sand, he recovered and swung another sword at her. She dodged to the side and leaned back, dropped her hands to the ground and kicked up as she made a back-flip. She couldn’t disarm him, seeing as the swords were part of his body, but the kick to his hand still earned her a point.

            Okay, there’s some control, she reasoned as she landed. After all, Koichi was a horrible swordsman when he had control over Duskmon; the moment he lost control, Duskmon had excellent swordplay.

            She pulled at the ocean water, forming a wave behind Duskmon. But instead of turning to face it or moving away, he instead turned the eyes on his shoulders to the water. A burst of red energy came out of each, destroying the wave. Then, before she could anticipate it, he came over with his unearthly speed and slashed his sword. She’d managed to retain enough sense to turn slightly, taking the hit on her arm rather than her chest. She clutched the wound as she fell to the sand, staring back at him in pain and terror as he pointed his sword at her. But then the sword retracted, and he took a few steps back before Fractal Code surrounded him and he reverted to human form. He stared aghast for a second before taking off for the restaurant.

            “Koichi, come back!” she cried, wincing at the pain. She peeled her hand away from the wound and checked the damage. While the cut wasn’t as deep as she’d feared, it was long and bleeding enough to make her panic. She immediately clamped her other hand on it, trying to create a tourniquet. Even so, blood was trickling down her arm, so she tightened her hold.

            Then, despite her expectations, Koichi raced back over, holding a roll of bandages. He removed the pin holding them together as Ranamon let go of the wound. For a second, he paused, breathing heavily at the sight of the injury he’d caused. But it only lasted a second before he tightly wrapped the bandages around her arm. When he finished, he sat back in shock while she devolved.

            “Thanks,” she said softly.

            “I’m so sorry,” he gasped. “I wasn’t thinking…”

            “What happened?” she asked, maintaining a calm, soothing voice. Koichi closed his eyes and lowered his head.

            “I’m sorry,” he murmured again. “I’m sorry.”

            “Koichi,” she insisted, adding a touch of firmness. “Tell me what happened.”

            “I got frustrated,” he confessed. “I couldn’t use the swords the way I wanted to. Then…then I just couldn’t see how close you were, and I guess the Spirit was taking advantage of my frustration. Part of me wanted to finish the battle, but I couldn’t—not with you hurt like that…” Then, in an even softer voice, he added, “If you hadn’t moved, I could have killed you.”

            Chiaki wasn’t sure what to say. “It’s okay” wouldn’t work, as it clearly wasn’t okay. Reassurances wouldn’t help at all, not with the first genuine scare Koichi had faced from his Spirit. Everything before it, he’d been lucky to forget until he could handle the trauma later. But this time, he’d been in control of his mind, if not his body, and he’d delivered the blow. And if this was what an accident could do, the thought of what he was capable of if he truly wanted to hurt anyone was chilling.

            Against her better judgment, she placed one hand on his—specifically, the hand she’d been covering her wound with. Koichi drew back from the contact the second he felt the blood, staring at the mark left on the back of his hand. Chiaki displayed her bloodied palm, gently saying, “Yes, you did this, but there’s a difference between you and Duskmon. You’re so terrified by this that you can’t figure it out, but that’s what keeps you human. Tell me, does Koichi Kimura like having blood on his hands?”

            “I’m sorry,” he whispered once more. “I didn’t want to hurt you…”

            “You didn’t answer my question,” she replied firmly. “Does Koichi—do you—likehaving blood on your hands?” He shook his head, still refusing to look at her. “But Duskmon doesn’t care, does he?” Another shake of the head. “Can’t you see the difference?” she asked. “Duskmon only lives for the thrill of battle. He’s hatred incarnate. He doesn’t have friends and doesn’t care what happens to his teammates. But you’re not him. We befriended you, and we know you care about us. The fact that you constantly keep giving up so much just to become Duskmon to help us is proof of that. You may have hurt me out there, but it was Duskmon who wanted to. And I know you’re smart enough to understand that.”

            He nodded gently. “But every time I evolve, I slip. I can’t keep control. I’ll get angry or frustrated, and everything falls apart. And that last fight, when I came back so angry… I’ve never been like that before. What if I’m losing my humanity? What’s going to keep me from doing this again, next time on purpose?”

            “Then remind yourself what it means to be human,” she said. “Remember that you’re Koichi, not a prisoner to Duskmon, but the true Warrior of Darkness.”

            “How?” he asked. It was one word, but she could hear all of his fear and desperation in his voice. He wanted an answer so badly that it was tearing him apart. Chiaki couldn’t help but wonder how often he’d felt that, with all the questions he seemed to have.

            “You’ve told us a lot about your family, but you never really told us about yourself,” she pointed out. “What makes you Koichi? Maybe that will help.”

            “I don’t know,” he admitted. “How am I supposed to figure that out?”

            “Start with the basics,” she advised. “We know you’re quiet, kind of shy, and smart. Build on that.”

            “I didn’t have a whole lot of friends before now since I always had to go home after school,” he started. “I got along with everyone, but I couldn’t hang out with them all the time.” Chiaki nodded, urging him to continue. “I’m pretty good at school, but not the best.”

            “Is there something more complex?” Chiaki asked.

            Koichi’s voice was a little lower as he admitted, “I sometimes have a hard time forgiving people. But I’ll forgive others just fine, and I don’t know why.”

            “How about hobbies?” she suggested. “Or something you’re good at?”

            “I can skate,” he provided. “They had a festival in the park every New Year’s, and they had ice skating. And Grandma taught me to dance.”

            Chiaki smiled. “Then next time we wind up in the middle of a demonstration, we’ll have to throw you in instead of Teruo.”

            Koichi stared at her in surprise. “How can you just let this go like that? I hurt you.”

            “You just said that you have a hard time forgiving people,” she reminded him. “But I think the person you have the hardest time forgiving is yourself. And I’m not going to let you brood. You can do that on your own time, not mine.”

            “But,” he protested, “the way you looked at me… You were so scared of me…”

            “Not of you,” she insisted. “I was scared of Duskmon and what he was going to do to me. I was afraid you didn’t have enough control to keep him from killing me. But now I know you do. You won against him again. You kept him from killing me.”

            He looked down momentarily and took a shaky breath before declaring, “I’ll have to try harder to control him, then.”

            She nodded. “Just remember who you are, and you should be okay.” He nodded in response.

            They sat out on the beach, watching the moonlit waves creep up and down the sands. After what could have been a few minutes or even a few hours, they washed the blood and sand off their hands and arms. Then it was finally okay for them to go back inside.

            ~~~

            It was hot and sunny when Chiaki woke up. In fact, it was the heat and light that made her wake up: pulling the light blanket over her head to block out the sun had nearly suffocated her. Reluctantly, she sat up, gingerly checking her injured arm. Blood was seeping through the bandage, but not as much as it had the night before. She figured it would probably be all right to have a looser wrap with a new bandage.

            Better shower first, she thought blearily.

            She grabbed a towel and bathrobe before walking out to the bathroom. Unfortunately, there was already a line: Teppei was pounding on the door while Teruo held a toothbrush and a towel.

            “Damn it,” Teppei swore. “Not even rooming with me, and he’s out to piss me off.”

            “Teppei, give me a break!” Katsuharu called from inside. “I’m almost done!”

            “Well, you better hurry up!” Teppei insisted. “We’ve all got to use it!” Sighing, he turned to Chiaki. “You might as well get some breakfast—or lunch at this rate. Katsuharu’s been in there for half an hour already.”

            “Where’s Koichi?” she asked, noticing the distinct absence of the last member of their quintet.

            “Probably still asleep, and I don’t blame him,” Teppei replied. “It’s probably the only sleep he’s gotten, what with Katsuharu’s chainsaw impression.”

            “Keep it up with the jokes, and I’ll stay in here longer,” Katsuharu threatened.

            “You do, and I’ll break down the door,” Teppei answered.

            “Yeah, but who winds up having to pay the Toucanmon?” Annoyed at losing the argument, Teppei muttered something that sounded distinctly like “Bastard.”

            “Chiaki, what happened to your arm?” Teruo asked suddenly. She tried to twist away to hide the bandage, but caught in the act, she showed him the cut.

            “I cut myself last night, bumping into something,” she explained. “I didn’t want to wake anybody, so I snuck into your room to grab the bandages.”

            Teruo held her arm, giving it an examination only an experienced klutz/medic could. Finally, he said, “I can’t tell how bad it is, but it looks like you might still want to keep it wrapped firmly. I can take care of that for you after you wash up.”

            “Thanks,” she replied, just as Teppei started knocking on the door again, demanding Katsuharu open up.

            “Happy now?” Katsuharu asked as he came out. But another door down the hall slid open, and Koichi stepped out, looking like he hadn’t slept at all. “Now look what you’ve done,” Katsuharu hissed to Teppei.

            “You’re the one who wouldn’t get out,” he replied.

            “Koichi, are you okay?” Teruo asked suspiciously. “Did you have a nightmare or something?” Koichi looked at them cautiously, but Chiaki gave him an almost imperceptible nod, trying to indicate that she’d kept his secret.

            “I’m okay,” he answered finally. “I’m just going out to the beach for a minute. Call me when the bathroom’s free.”

            Chiaki took a fast shower, wincing each time the hot water touched her cut. It was starting to scab over, but she was afraid that some sand had gotten into the wound, forcing her to let it bleed a little more. She and Koichi hadn’t had a chance to clean it the night before; she was too hurt and he was too afraid.

            Once she’d gotten dressed, she came out of the bathroom and found Teruo, who’d managed to get some clean cotton to dab away some of the blood and water.

            “That should do it,” he said upon finishing the wrap.

            “Thanks,” she replied. “It feels a lot better already.”

            “Um, Chiaki?” he asked. “I know it’s probably rude of me to ask, but do you know what’s wrong with Koichi? He seemed kind of freaked out this morning.”

            “Well,” she stalled, trying to think of a good lie, “I probably shouldn’t mention this, but he did have a nightmare. He’d just come out of his room when he saw me bleeding, and he helped bandage me up. I didn’t want to say anything so I wouldn’t embarrass him.”

            “Oh,” Teruo answered. “That explains it, then. I thought the bandaging was too good for you to do yourself.” Chiaki nodded, making a mental note to think of better excuses the next time she had to lie to him.

            “Hey,” Teppei called, walking over. “Shower’s free, Teruo.”

            “Thanks,” he replied, heading off for the bathroom. Teppei took the opportunity to look over at Chiaki.

            “Overheard your talk just now,” he said.

            “Please don’t tell Koichi,” she requested. “I don’t want to betray his trust.”

            “I think you betrayed him worse just now,” Teppei answered. “I’ve seen him sneaking out the past few weeks, running out of town and coming back exhausted. I had a theory what he was up to, and seeing the way he was so nervous around us this morning confirmed it. There’s only one thing that can leave him that afraid, and it’s Duskmon.” Chiaki didn’t answer. “You don’t have to cover for him. If he didn’t want to talk, we wouldn’t ask. Right now, all you’re doing is patronizing him.”

            Ordinarily, Chiaki would have argued. Instead, she silently got up and headed over to the beach to try and drag Koichi back from his self-imposed exile. He was sitting at the edge of the water, looking out at nothing.

            “Feeling any better?” she asked, but he jumped at the sound of her voice. “Sorry.”

            “It’s okay,” he assured, settling down again. With a sigh, he added, “I guess I’m okay. I just needed to think. Last night scared me.”

            “It scared me too,” she confessed. “But it’s over. There’s always a chance you’ll slip again, but you have to be sure that you don’t.”

            He nodded and then asked, “What about your hobbies? When we were talking last night, you made me realize that I don’t know as much about you as I do about the others.”

            Chiaki smiled. “That’s because I’m usually a listener instead of a talker. Actually, I’m in the chorus at school, and I’m pretty good at it too. My brother’s girlfriend, Yoshino, plays piano at our concerts and has helped me with solos too.” Koichi nodded, a small smile on his face. “I wonder if I should try gymnastics too when we get home, what with all the agility I have as Ranamon.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi replied, the smile fading as a thoughtful expression formed on his face. “Maybe I should see about learning swordplay. Even if I don’t get all that better at it, I’d at least know how to hold back from attacking harder than I mean to.”

            “True,” Chiaki admitted. “But Seraphimon said that he corrupted your Spirits. What if there’s a way to get rid of that influence?”

            Koichi looked at his D-tector. “Maybe. When we saw Wisemon, he revealed my aura. There were two sides of it—a shape like Duskmon, and one I didn’t know.”

            “The Beast Spirit?” she guessed.

            He shook his head. “No, the Beast Spirit is a bird. This wasn’t anything like that. I think it was some kind of other Human Spirit. I think when Seraphimon corrupted the Spirits, he changed their forms too.”

            “Come on,” she urged. “Let’s get some breakfast. We can worry about this later, okay?” He nodded and got up, and they walked back to the restaurant.

            The Toucanmon had set out a traditional Japanese breakfast of miso soup, rice, grilled fish, and different types of pickles. Teppei was already eating, and Chiaki had to snatch her pickled plums away from him, glaring when he popped one in his mouth. Teruo joined soon after, fresh out of the shower, while Katsuharu muttered curses from the direction of his room. This continued all throughout breakfast and lasted until Koichi got out of the shower, and even then he’d rejoined the others before Katsuharu sat down with a frustrated look on his face.

            “Is everything okay?” Koichi asked.

            “I can’t find my D-tector,” Katsuharu replied. “I swear I put it right on top of my clothes before bed, and now it’s not there.”

            Frowning, Teruo checked the compass on his D-tector. It stayed still, pointing in the center. “Well, it looks like it’s still here. Maybe you moved it when you got up?”

            “Maybe,” Katsuharu answered, eating his rice with a frown. “Can’t think of what I’d have done with it, though. Anyway, you guys head out to the beach already. I’ll keep looking.”

            “Yeah,” Chiaki agreed. “We’ll keep ours with us, just so we don’t lose any more.”

            They managed to find swimwear in their sizes and quickly changed before running out to the beach. The rainy weather of the day before was nowhere in sight, and the sun was brightly shining down on them. Teppei ran into the water immediately, calling out, “Hey, come on! It’s warm!”

            Teruo sighed and regarded his bandaged arms. “Looks like I’d better stay on land.”

            Remembering her own injury, Chiaki said, “I think I’ll join you.”

            “Fine by me,” Teppei replied. “Come on, Koichi!”

            He looked hesitantly at his friends, but Chiaki assured, “Go on. We’ll be fine.”

            To be honest, Chiaki wasn’t entirely sure that it was a good idea for Koichi and Teppei of all people to be the ones in the water after Koichi’s trauma the other night. But Teppei neither picked on him nor tried to protect him. In essence, he acted like it was just a regular day. And that seemed to be what Koichi needed. After a while, Katsuharu, having given up the quest for his D-tector, made a running leap into the water and dunked Koichi and Teppei. They teamed up and pulled him under, eventually pulling Chiaki and Teruo into the water war. Once Katsuharu surrendered and everyone was waterlogged, they made their way back to the sand to dry in the hot sun.

            “You know, I wouldn’t mind a bit if every day was like this,” Teppei commented. “No fighting, no stress—just soaking each other and baking in the sun.”

            “We’d better enjoy it while we can,” Koichi said. “Ophanimon’s Warriors aren’t going to stop trying to destroy everything.”

            Teppei groaned. “Do you have to angst just when we’re on a break? What, you think Ophanimon’s Warriors are going to just come up behind us and attack?” Koichi pointed. Teppei turned around to see a flock of Harpymon coming toward them. He turned back to Koichi and muttered, “For the record, I blame you.”

            “So who’s up?” Katsuharu asked, getting to his feet. “I lost my D-tector and Teruo’s still hurt. Who can fight?”

            “My injury’s not that bad,” Chiaki provided.

            “Then it looks like you two,” Teppei told Koichi and Chiaki. “There’s no way I’m going to last near a water battle. Excuse the joke, but I’ll sink like a rock.”

            “Are you up to this?” Chiaki asked, holding her D-tector. Koichi nodded and raised his arm into the air. She quickly followed suit.

            The bandage was still on Ranamon’s arm after the evolution, so she was careful to watch that side as the Harpymon sent blade after blade of air at her. She hardly focused on Duskmon, letting him fight on his own, as he always did. Harpymon were fairly weak enemies in comparison to Ophanimon’s Warriors, but there were more than enough of them to keep them busy. Katsuharu, Teppei, and Teruo tried to get to safety, but they were completely surrounded. Duskmon fought his way past the legions, leaving Ranamon to defend their friends.

            It was difficult work. She had to concentrate on a circle around her, raising waves to blast an opening for the others to run. But they never got far before the Harpymon closed in again. Teppei and Teruo were torn between wanting to fight and knowing that they would be useless, so they and Katsuharu put up with the wind and sand as much as possible. Ranamon brought up another wave just as a blast of wind hit her from above. She didn’t even have to look up to know it was Kazemon.

            “Not now,” she muttered. “Guys, this is going to be tough. I don’t know how I can protect you from all sides like this.”

            There were fourteen Harpymon surrounding the quartet. The seven behind them were suddenly cut down. They turned as the Fractal Code was scanned, seeing Duskmon holding his D-tector.

            “Go,” he informed. “I’ll handle this.”

            The others stared, and Ranamon just managed to ask, “Koichi?”

            “Go now!” he ordered, slashing into another Harpymon. No one wasted any time; the boys ran back to the restaurant while Ranamon headed to face Kazemon.

            “So, Zoë, looks like you need minions to do your dirty work now,” Ranamon noticed. “I thought you hated Amaya, but it definitely looks like you’re taking a page from her book.”

            “Lady Ophanimon lent them to me as help to find my Beast Spirit,” Kazemon replied. “But they provide a useful diversion against your friends.”

            “Not for long, the way Koichi’s tearing through them,” Ranamon answered.

            “But still long enough,” Kazemon retorted.

            “Yeah,” Ranamon agreed. “Long enough for us to finish this.”

            She sent a rushing stream of water toward Kazemon, who blocked with a Hurricane Wave. Kazemon then flew above the remaining water and dove at Ranamon, kicking. Ranamon was knocked into the water, but she burst out of it angrily, forming a large storm-cloud over Kazemon’s head. As Kazemon tried to fly away from it, Ranamon kept it following her, all the while smirking.

            “You caught me on a bad day, Zoë,” she said. “Things were just starting to go right, and then you attacked. After everything that’s happened, I’ve been waiting for someone to take it out on.”

            Their battle drew them farther out into the straits between the beach and nearby islands. Kazemon tried to use flight to her advantage, but Ranamon stood upon jets of water to attack more effectively. She tried forming a corrosive mist around Kazemon, but it was quickly dissipated in the wind. Air and water clashed, forming waterspouts and churning the water like a witches’ brew. All the while, something kept niggling in the backs of their minds, as if calling for them.

            A wet tornado hit Ranamon once more, and she raised her hands like a conductor and brought down a shower of Draining Rain. That calling was getting louder and more insistent, and she was positive that if she had her D-tector displayed, it would be flashing and beeping wildly. With a cry of frustration, she broke off her attack and dove into the water. At almost the exact same time, Kazemon flew away toward a whirlpool off the coast of a neighboring island.

            Please be what I think it is, Ranamon prayed as she swam toward a sunken shipwreck.

            She entered, searching around as if for a pirate’s treasure. It almost felt like something out of a movie she’d seen somewhere, sometime, but she felt too pressed for time to think about that. After all, at that very moment, Kazemon had come across a giant clamshell giving off star-like lights in the center of the whirlpool. Finally, Ranamon formed her D-tector, following the compass to a small, opened chest in what was presumably the captain’s quarters.

            I should have known, she thought cynically. She held out her D-tector, letting it enter as she cried out, “Slide Evolution!”

            The Beast Spirit was a completely different creature from the Human Spirit. Where the Human Spirit contained the calmness and clarity of a still pool, the Beast Spirit was a riptide—powerful and unforgiving. It threatened to pull Chiaki under and drown her.

            I won’t, she insisted. I’m the Warrior of Water now, not the Spirit. Remembering everything she’d told Koichi to try and control his own Spirit, she focused on memories of home, emotions toward her friends, and everything else that made her who she was. Eventually, the waters inside her mind calmed, and she shouted out the name of her new form:

            “Calmaramon!”

            She was large in this form, and she easily destroyed the cabin. But it was the power she needed, and she swam to the surface, seeing the Beast Warrior of Wind flying over. Her mouth was covered, but the smirk was clear in by the squint-lines around her eyes.

            “The Spirit of Water just goes from one extreme to another,” she noticed, her voice far more mature than it had been as Kazemon. “The Human Spirit is a weak, little sprite while the Beast Spirit is a giant monster. Zephyrmon, however, is the perfect balance.”

            “So I’m not a wisp of a thing like you,” Calmaramon replied. Her voice, on the other hand, was a rougher version of her normal voice, but she ignored it. “I make up for it with power.” And with that, the time for talking was over. The battle truly began.

 

First of all, I apologize for the month-long gap in-between this chapter and the last. I did warn you there would be slow updates—finals and the holidays completely took up my time. I did, however, manage to write two gaiden on my LiveJournal—the link is in my profile. As always, thanks to Ryan Griffin for letting me bounce ideas off of him.

Koichi’s mentioned dancing talent is a reference to “Dancing Lessons” by my friend Lady Iapetus. Yoshino is from the new fifth season, Digimon Savers, as I had the odd urge to make a pseudo-crossover.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twelve: “Poor Unfortunate Souls”

            When Lucemon fell, the Spirits of the Legendary Warriors were split among his successors. Cherubimon was entrusted with Darkness, Steel, Wood, Earth, and Water; Ophanimon with Flame, Ice, and Thunder; and Seraphimon with Light and Wind. When the chosen children came to the Digital World, most of the Spirits hid themselves in plain sight so that they could be found by each child. This was the case for the Spirits belonging to Ophanimon’s Warriors. But even for Cherubimon’s previous four Warriors, the Spirits that had eventually rejected them chose hiding places from where they could whisper for their new Warriors to find them.

            By complete coincidence, the Beast Spirits of Water and Wind found their hiding places nearby. It is entirely possible that whatever remained of the original Legendary Warriors’ spirits knew on some level that they would meet again as enemies and wanted their Warriors to be on even footing. When the Beast Spirit of Wind hid itself in the ocean near an island, it caused a tremendous whirlpool that disrupted the daily fishing ritual of the native Gomamon. Many managed to return to their island, but others were forced to swim to the mainland. Still, others were drowned or crushed in the maelstrom, and their Fractal Code fed more whirlpools, effectively cutting off the displaced Gomamon from their island. But now, with the whirlpools miraculously gone, the Gomamon were ready to go home.

            But before they even got the chance, the battle cut in.

            Chiaki inwardly grimaced as she tried to get the hang of her new evolution. Calmaramon was huge and slow to move out of the way—a world away from the nimble Ranamon. To counter that weakness, she was a lot stronger and could withstand more attacks, but she didn’t like having to take so many hits.

            I’ve got to admit this isn’t the most convenient Spirit, she thought. But if I can just get a good shot… And there it was—Zephyrmon moved right in front of her, hands and feet glowing for an attack. Calmaramon took a breath with her gills and spewed a great deal of acidic ink at her. The technique felt a lot like vomiting, and she had a feeling she’d be heaving once she devolved too.

            Zephyrmon was fast, but not fast enough to escape the ink. She dodged, and in the process, the ink hit one of her wings and started to burn. As Zephyrmon flinched in pain, Calmaramon smirked and tried to fight the overwhelming urge to vomit for real this time. She only just succeeded.

            “That’s it!” Zephyrmon shouted, stirring up the wind. “Hurricane Gale!”

            The attack, far stronger than Kazemon’s Hurricane Wave, sent the wind and water whipping at Calmaramon as pink blades of magical wind cut into her. Then, while Calmaramon was prone, Zephyrmon shot forward, her talons glowing with red spheres. With a cry of “Plasma Pods!” she made an expert hit on Calmaramon’s injured arm. Calmaramon cried out in pain, having forgotten her earlier wound.

            If this keeps up, there’s no way I can win, she realized. But before she could figure out a way to get out of the mess, she saw several Gomamon swimming for their lives toward the island. Knowing they were in danger, she cried, “Get away from here! Get out of the water!”

            Her message didn’t have the desired effect. Several of them stopped cold in the water, staring at her in terror. As Calmaramon started gesturing for them to get out of there, some got the message and swam away. Three dove under the water. One still remained, too terrified to move. Zephyrmon saw it and unleashed a Hurricane Gale. Calmaramon raced to intercept it, but she wasn’t made for speed. The attack connected, reducing the Gomamon to Fractal Code, which Zephyrmon quickly scanned. Calmaramon watched in horror as the digiegg flew away. This was the first time such a thing had happened to her.

            “You know, I could finish you right now,” Zephyrmon noticed. But Calmaramon turned around furiously and sent another stream of ink in her direction. Zephyrmon dodged it perfectly this time and replied, “But I won’t. I got what I came here for, plus a little extra.” There was a smirk visible in her eyes as she watched Calmaramon devolve, and then she flew off.

            The water was still rough from the battle, but Chiaki didn’t bother to fight it. She was perfectly content to sink to the sea’s depths. To her surprise, however, one of the Gomamon pulled her back up to the surface and to dry land, where the boys were waiting.

            “We saw the whole thing,” Teruo said. “I’m sorry.”

            She had always been the one they turned to when they were in trouble, so everyone was at a loss for what to do when she broke down in front of them. Then, the boys started to close in around her while the just-arrived Bokomon and Neemon watched. Seeing the Toucanmon nearby, Bokomon urged them to give the children some space. It was really all that could be done.

            ~~~

            Chiaki had all but locked herself in her room when they got back to the Toucanmon’s restaurant. Teruo felt awful about not being able to help, but he ultimately decided the best thing he could do was let her get over it. It didn’t mean, however, that he had to let her continue suffering the physical injuries she’d taken.

            Katsuharu’s room was still a mess from the earlier frantic search to find the missing D-tector. Teruo had never been one for keeping a room messy, so he started straightening things up, hoping he might find said digivice in the mess of blankets and borrowed clothes.

            That’s weird, he noticed. He’d managed to clean up the room in a few minutes, but their bag of supplies was missing.

            “Hey, you manage to find my D-tector?” Katsuharu asked, walking in the room.

            “Did you happen to move the supply bag when you were looking earlier?” Teruo asked.

            Katsuharu blinked in surprise. “No. That’s missing too?”

            “Yeah,” he answered. “Bokomon and Neemon might have taken it, though I doubt it…”

            “You think someone else took it?” Katsuharu guessed. But before Teruo could confirm or deny it, Bokomon yelled.

            Bokomon and Neemon had been rooming with Teppei and Koichi, who were currently on their hands and knees searching the room. Finally, they gave up the search and gave the Digimon resigned looks.

            “What happened?” Katsuharu asked.

            “The book is missing!” Bokomon declared almost melodramatically.

            “Keep it down!” Teruo insisted, quickly closing the door.

            Catching his suspicious behavior, Katsuharu asked, “What’s up?”

            “All of our supplies are gone too,” Teruo warned them in a low voice. “Someone must have taken them while we were on the beach.”

            “You think they got the book too?” Koichi asked, and Teruo nodded. “But why? And who?”

            “I can’t believe you have to ask that question,” Teppei said. “Though, even I have to admit it doesn’t make any sense. Why would the Toucanmon steal our stuff?”

            “They were asking a lot of questions when we first came,” Teruo remembered. “And they were the only ones here when the attack happened. Bokomon and Neemon came out with us.”

            “Yeah, but explain my D-tector disappearing,” Katsuharu challenged. “I might be able to sleep through anything, but Koichi would definitely have woken up if someone came into the room.”

            Koichi started to look uncomfortable. Teppei looked at him and said, “You might as well just come clean now.”

            “Come clean about what?” Katsuharu asked.

            “I was never in the room last night,” Koichi confessed. “I was up all night training.”

            “Training as in?” Katsuharu pressed.

            “Evolving to Duskmon,” he admitted, looking at the floor. “That’s why Chiaki’s arm is cut up. She was helping me, and I started to lose control.”

            Katsuharu closed his eyes and took a breath, and Teruo watched both him and Koichi. Realizing that someone had to get the conversation back on-track, Teppei said, “And while you were out, the Toucanmon must have snuck in the room and taken Katsuharu’s D-tector. With you and Chiaki training outside, they didn’t have a chance to steal those.”

            “And they’d already overheard you say that you’re a light sleeper,” Teruo remembered. “That’s why ours weren’t taken.”

            “But that still doesn’t answer why,” Katsuharu pointed out, shoving aside his anger toward Koichi. “Sure, they might have taken my D-tector if they thought they could evolve with it, but why the supplies? Why the book?”

            Teruo furrowed his brow and concentrated on the events of the day. He wasn’t as big a fan of mystery novels as he was of fantasy, but enough plotlines had depended on the hero finding or missing vital clues for him to learn to piece evidence together. Finally, he said, “Katsuharu, how long were you looking for your D-tector while we were on the beach?”

            “Maybe half an hour at most,” he admitted.

            “Were the Toucanmon around?”

            “Yeah,” he replied. “They were trying to help, though they might have been trying to distract me. Then they said I might as well go for a swim and come back so I could think clearer.”

            “And how long were we all outside before the attack started?” Teruo asked.

            “Not too long,” Koichi remembered. “The water war only lasted a few minutes.” Then, following Teruo’s train of thought, he asked, “Do you think they told Zoë we were here?”

            “She was looking for her Beast Spirit already,” Katsuharu insisted. “She tracked it down here.”

            “But still,” Teruo protested, “she knew to come here. She knew to fight by the sea, where Teppei couldn’t fight. At the same time, conveniently enough, I’m too injured to fight, Katsuharu lost his D-tector, Koichi didn’t sleep, and Chiaki was hurt.”

            “You make a good point,” Katsuharu admitted. “Any ideas on what comes next? Granted, we can trust Duskmon a little more now—” He glanced at Koichi, who nodded solemnly, “—but Chiaki’s got the best chance of winning against Zephyrmon. She’s got a Beast Spirit, and she’s in her element.”

            “Yeah, but I don’t think she’s going to be up to fighting for a while,” Koichi pointed out.

            There was silence for a few minutes as they tried to figure out what to do. Finally, Teppei declared, “Well, I’ll leave you guys to the planning. I’m going to the bathroom.”

            “After all that whining this morning, you still haven’t gone?” Katsuharu asked skeptically.

            “Hey, it’s indoor plumbing,” Teppei replied. “I’m going to enjoy it while I can.”

            While Teppei was gone, the others started to put together a plan. They had sorted as many of the flaws as they could find when they suddenly realized that Teppei had been gone for a while. But they didn’t worry until they heard shouting coming from the general direction of Chiaki’s room:

            “What, so you think that just because things went bad we should just let you lie here and cry all day?”

            “Shut up, Teppei! You don’t know what it’s like!”

            “You’re right, I don’t. But I’m sure Koichi knows what it’s like to have a Spirit that scares the shit out of everyone, including himself. Or you could ask Teruo what it’s like to be completely unable to save someone.”

            They opened the door and rushed out into the hall in time to see a furious Chiaki slap Teppei across the face as hard as she could. To his credit, he stood his ground.

            “And you hit like a girl,” he added spitefully.

            The next thing anyone knew, Chiaki drew her fist back and drove it into Teppei’s stomach. He crumpled on the spot, still doubled over on the floor as he tried to breathe. Chiaki took the opportunity to slam the door in front of his face.

            “What were you thinking?” Katsuharu asked as Teppei managed to pull himself to his feet.

            Wheezing, he answered, “I think she’ll be okay now.”

            ~~~

            Chiaki sat up in bed suddenly, still feeling the fear from the nightmare she’d just had. It took her a moment to calm down and breathe the sticky, humid air, and her skin was clammy from nightmare-sweat. The details were hazy, but she could remember fighting as Calmaramon while Teruo was in the water. One of her attacks strayed and hit him, and he went under the water. He’d only come up when he drowned.

            She stepped outside the room to get a drink of water. Once she’d managed to get rid of the dryness in her mouth, she went back into the hall. The bedrooms were practically on the restaurant’s back porch, giving her a clear view of Duskmon practicing fairly rigid swordplay not too far away. He paused slightly before turning in her direction; Chiaki had forgotten how good his eyesight was. She tried to offer a smile before going off, and he resumed his practice. But there was one thing she had to do before she could even try to go back to sleep.

            “Teruo?” she whispered, slipping into his room. Gently, she shook him.

            “Huh, Chiaki?” he asked, sitting up. “Something wrong?”

            “I just need to ask you something,” she said.

            “What?”

            “Can you swim?”

            She couldn’t see his face, but she got the feeling he was giving her a completely confused look. “Yeah. Why?”

            “Just a nightmare,” she answered. “I wanted to be sure that you’d be able to get yourself out of anything that I caused.”

            “Yeah, no problem,” Teruo replied, still puzzled. “I know I’m not the best fighter and my parents kind of kept me back all the time, but I can hold my own. You don’t need to worry about me.”

            Chiaki smiled in relief. “That’s what I thought.”

            “That’s sweet and all,” came Teppei’s grumble across the room, “but in case you haven’t noticed, it’s midnight and some of us need some sleep!” He pulled his pillow over his head. “Go back to bed, you two.”

            Chiaki managed to laugh, feeling a lot better than she had a few minutes ago. “Sorry, Teppei. Night, Teruo.”

            “Night,” Teruo yawned back.

            As she walked back to her room, she took another glance at the beach. Koichi had just finished his practice, and he waved at her as he walked back to the restaurant. She waved back before entering her room and falling fast asleep.

            ~~~

            The next morning was roughly business as usual, with the ritual race to the bathroom and ceremonial pounding on the door. But once everyone had washed up, eaten, and made sure that nothing else of theirs had disappeared in the night, they met on the beach to discuss their plans.

            “Are you sure it’s the Toucanmon?” Chiaki asked.

            Teruo nodded. “They’re the only ones who had the chance and knew enough to target these things specifically.”

            Teppei sighed. “So now we’ve got to worry about Ophanimon’s Warriors having the book and the Spirit of Wood.”

            “Not really,” Koichi corrected. “There wouldn’t have been time for them to give everything to Zoë before she attacked. And knowing the others, they would have fought too if they were around.”

            “You’re right,” Bokomon realized. “The Toucanmon showed up not long before Chiaki’s battle with Zoë ended. And come to think of it, they were acting strangely.”

            “How strange?” Katsuharu asked.

            Bokomon suddenly looked like he didn’t want to tell them, but he caved under their stares. “They were acting rather unsympathetic toward Chiaki after her ordeal with the Beast Spirit. I didn’t think much of it as I shooed them away, but now it all makes sense…”

            “They were spying on me,” Chiaki realized, her voice hard. “They acted as generous as they could so we’d lower our guard, and then they steal our stuff and betray us.”

            “But we can’t let on that we know,” Teruo warned. “We need to act like everything’s fine, otherwise they’ll run—with our stuff.”

            “Good point,” Katsuharu admitted. “Got a plan?”

            “We split up,” Teruo suggested. “Bokomon, what’s the closest major town?”

            “That would probably be the Autumn Leaf Fair, across the sea,” he remembered.

            “Then Koichi and Teppei should head there and wait for us,” Katsuharu decided. “I feel better sending two people who can fight instead of Chiaki or Teruo.” Turning to them, he added, “No offense, but Teruo’s still too hurt to fight, and Chiaki’s probably not that great on land.”

            “Yeah,” Chiaki relented.

            “But the Autumn Leaf Fair is in the middle of a frozen wasteland!” Bokomon cut in.

            “You’ll freeze!” Neemon added.

            “Sounds like the perfect vacation,” Teppei groaned. “Snow and ice—a nice change from all of this sun and sand.”

            “You two go with them,” Katsuharu told Bokomon and Neemon. “When we find the book, we’ll let you know. Anyway, you’d probably be safer with them, since Chiaki’s probably going to have to fight here, and the fewer people she has to look out for, the better.” Then, looking at Teppei and Koichi, he added, “You’d better head off now so the Toucanmon don’t try to delay you. We’ll bring along anything else you need when we catch up.” They nodded and ran off.

            “Katsuharu,” Teruo whispered, making a vague notion toward the trees. Katsuharu figured out what he meant and snuck a discreet look in that direction, seeing one of the Toucanmon flying toward the restaurant.

            “Looks like it starts now,” he said.

            They managed to keep as low a profile as they possibly could until the night. Chiaki ignored the hateful stares the Toucanmon gave her and tried her hardest to keep out of everyone’s way. Teruo and Katsuharu put in one last half-hearted attempt at finding their stolen things before dinner. All the while, they carefully kept a lookout in case of attack. Then, just around sunset, Zephyrmon arrived.

            The trees on the beach weren’t the best place to hide, but they worked just fine near nightfall. Teppei sat in one of the trees while Duskmon kept watch.

            “Sure, Katsuharu, Teruo, and Chiaki get to play bait,” Teppei muttered. “Me? I’m on a stake-out with the master conversationalist. See anything?” Duskmon glared at him. “Give me a break, Koichi,” Teppei continued. “I know you’re just as bored as I am.”

            Finally, Duskmon answered, “Zephyrmon is waiting outside the restaurant. A Silphymon is with her.”

            “Silphymon, eh?” Teppei asked. Looking over to the next tree, he asked, “Bokomon, you know anything about Silphymon?”

            “Only the barest details, I’m afraid,” Bokomon confessed. Neemon was keeping quiet, as Teppei had repeatedly threatened to gag him and Koichi’s evolution scared him. “She’s a fairly high level—more than you’re used to dealing with, though not as strong as Seraphimon. I think she’s a wind-elemental.”

            “Yeah, that makes sense,” Teppei agreed. He squinted to try and get a good look. He was lucky that it was still fairly light out so he could see Silphymon’s visor. Furthermore, it wasn’t so dark that his evolution was bright enough to draw a lot of attention. “Hey, Koichi, how well do you think she can see with that visor?” At the silence, he added, “Come on, it’s important.”

            “Probably not well at night,” Duskmon said.

            “What are you planning?” Bokomon asked.

            Grumblemon grinned. “I want to see if coconuts can migrate.”

            He picked one of the fruit off the tree and aimed carefully before lobbing it right at Silphymon’s head. It connected just as she was about to make an attack, making her throw her energy sphere into the air. The sudden burst of light alerted everyone in the restaurant as Duskmon and Grumblemon left their hiding place.

            “Those idiots didn’t realize it was a trap!” Zephyrmon realized.

            “Good to see you only brought one flunky this time,” Grumblemon said. “Looks like we’ll be done with this one fast.”

            “You really think that you two can finish us that fast?” Zephyrmon asked.

            “They’re not taking you on, Zoë,” Chiaki declared. Behind her, Katsuharu and Teruo were holding off the Toucanmon to the best of their ability. “I am.” She held out her D-tector. “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            Zephyrmon was shocked when Chiaki evolved to Ranamon instead of Calmaramon, but even so, she adopted a battle stance in the air. “You couldn’t beat me as Calmaramon, and you think you can win a level lower?”

            Ranamon smirked. “Let’s find out.”

            She ran toward the sea, dodging wind attacks along the way. When she leapt to dive into the water, Silphymon tried to fire an energy sphere at her back, but Grumblemon and Duskmon attacked her from behind, preventing the attack. Once in the water, Ranamon manipulated the currents and pushed them to the surface, balancing on a column of water high enough for her to reach Zephyrmon.

            A gust of blades and wind came for her, so she quickly formed a shield of water all around herself to keep out the wind. The blades still came through, but she was able to leap over them, getting higher and higher with each jump. When she felt like she was going to fall, she increased the height of her column. Finally, she leapt off of it and slide-evolved in the air, spinning wildly in Calmaramon’s form.

            “Titanic Tempest!”

            Zephyrmon was caught off-guard by the attack and got knocked aside by the twisting tentacles. She recovered before she could hit the water, though, and turned to see where Calmaramon had gone. There was a huge splash accompanied by foaming bubbles—she’d dived.

            “Come out, Chiaki!” Zephyrmon challenged. “Quit hiding!”

            “Acid Ink!”

            Calmaramon had only partially surfaced, giving her enough discretion to attack Zephyrmon’s wings. Zephyrmon screamed in pain and whipped around to send a Hurricane Gale, but Calmaramon managed to dive. She reverted to Ranamon’s form and leapt out of the water, opting for a physical attack while Zephyrmon was wounded. She came at her with a kick, but Zephyrmon blocked it. Ranamon flipped as she fell back, evolving once again.

            “Give it up, Zoë!” she yelled. “I’ve figured out how to beat you.”

            “But you still have the same old weakness,” Zephyrmon replied, aiming her next Hurricane Gale toward the beach.

            Everything seemed to happen in a chain reaction. The attack hit Teruo and Katsuharu, sending them skidding across the sand. Duskmon saw them fall, and Koichi’s mind took over suddenly, freezing him in shock long enough for Silphymon to blast him with an energy sphere, forcing him to devolve. Grumblemon tried to fight her alone, but he was soon outmatched. Without even thinking about it, Calmaramon abandoned her battle, spinning like a top to try and get over to the beach fast enough so that Silphymon couldn’t hurt anyone any more than she had. When she finally impacted with Silphymon, she felt a sense of satisfaction.

            “You do not hurt my friends,” she threatened, heaving ink at her. Silphymon took off into the air, but Calmaramon kept up the ink attack. Silphymon was forced to dodge this way and that to get away.

            “Static Force!” Silphymon cried, throwing an energy sphere. But Calmaramon had seen it coming and switched evolutions, using Ranamon’s agility to hop off the sand and rebound off a tree to get in the air before re-evolving. A Titanic Tempest crashed into Silphymon, throwing her into the water. Calmaramon changed evolutions again before landing, readying the waves for a pre-emptive attack. However, Silphymon flew out of the water faster than Ranamon had expected, forcing her to send columns of water shooting at her instead.

            Silphymon dove at her with a cry of “Astro Laser!” creating an aura of energy that broke free of her body and hit Ranamon before she could dodge. Once again, Ranamon shifted evolutions and vomited ink at her, this time hitting hard enough to drop Silphymon to the ground. Another Titanic Tempest slammed down on her soon after, finishing the job.

            Chiaki devolved finally, holding her D-tector and staring at the darkened form encircled by Fractal Code. She knew that she should be hurting from her first kill, but her anger and concern for her friends overshadowed it. In a hard voice, she called out, “Fractal Code, digitize!” and scanned the data. She’d deal with her feelings later. Right now, she needed to be sure her friends were all right.

            Luckily, they’d all come out of it in relatively good shape. Koichi and Teppei had only been stunned, and they recovered easily once they’d caught their breath. Katsuharu and Teruo, for all they were dirty and scratched up, had been fortunate enough not to get hit by any blades. Chiaki momentarily wondered if Zoë hadn’t actually been trying to hurt them, but she put those thoughts aside for the time being and just hugged Teruo as tightly as she could.

            “Sure,” Teppei joked. “Isn’t that just our luck, Koichi? We do most of the work, and Teruo gets the girl.” Teruo turned bright red, and Koichi and Katsuharu both took the opportunity to whack Teppei upside the head.

            “You okay now?” Katsuharu checked.

            Chiaki nodded. “At least, I will be.”

            “That was incredible!” exclaimed the lead Toucanmon. The kids turned in surprise as all four Toucanmon came over, looking rather starry-eyed at Chiaki.

            “You going to give us our stuff back?” Katsuharu asked in a threatening voice.

            “Yes, yes, anything for Chiaki!” another Toucanmon declared, causing the kids to look at each other in confusion.

            “I thought you were working for Zoë,” Chiaki confessed.

            “We were, but we can’t love someone who put our lives in danger like that,” another replied.

            “We won’t ever forget how Ranamon fought off Zephyrmon like that!” the fourth added.

            “But wait,” Koichi interrupted. “Chiaki did more fighting as Calmaramon than Ranamon.”

            It didn’t take long for everyone to figure out what this meant. Chiaki stood up and coolly walked over to the Toucanmon. Bokomon and Neemon, who had just left the safety of the trees, took cover behind Teppei and Koichi.

            “So what you’re saying is that you think Ranamon’s cuter than Zephyrmon?” she asked in an all too calm, all too sweet voice. The Toucanmon appeared to sense her displeasure and started sputtering meaningless apologies. “I can’t believe how shallow you are!” Chiaki cried, beating them over their heads. “You’ve been giving me grief all day over how ugly I am as Calmaramon, and you expect me to forget it this easily! Looks don’t matter when you need to fight!”

            Teppei took a glance at Koichi, who looked rather shocked at the verbal and physical abuse. “This is the first time you’ve seen a full-on Chiaki rant, isn’t it?”

            “Yeah,” he admitted, wincing as Chiaki took another whack at the Digimon. “I thought you were exaggerating.”

            Teppei shook his head. “Trust me, after a while, you get used to it. It’s actually a lot of fun watching her work, even if it’s a health hazard to be on the receiving end.” Then he winced himself. “I just hope she leaves them conscious to tell us where they left our stuff.”

            “So, any plans on where to go next?” Katsuharu asked. “I really don’t feel like heading to the Autumn Leaf Fair if we have to cross all that snow and ice.”

            “There’s a Burgermon village a few days away, I think,” Koichi said. “I’ve been there before, and it’s got something we’ll need.” Katsuharu raised an eyebrow at how vague he was sounding. “Sorry. I don’t want to say too much right now.”

            “Okay,” he agreed. “So when Chiaki’s done, we grab our stuff and head out?”

            Teppei looked back to Chiaki, who kicked one of the Toucanmon before storming off back to the restaurant. “If anyone feels like telling her to get ready, be my guest.”

 

I’m sorry once again for the long wait with this chapter. Holidays, finals, and other writing projects took up most of my time. Thanks as always to Shaun Garin and Ryan Griffin for their help with this chapter.

The title comes from a song from Disney’s The Little Mermaid, even though I’d made a vow to myself not to make the obvious jokes. If you don’t get the migrating coconut joke, please determine the airspeed velocity of an unladed swallow. African or European is fine, and please show your work.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Thirteen: “Tips for Evil Overlords”

            A Trailmon had taken Cherubimon’s Warriors past the frozen wastelands and dropped them off at a small town some miles away. They’d tried finding a ride to the Hamburger Digimon Village, but all of the Trailmon were readying to compete in the annual Trailmon Race. Instead of continuing the journey on foot, the kids decided to take the opportunity to scout around town for jobs. For the most part, it was odd jobs—delivering packages, putting up posters and flyers, and such—but they had gotten some peacekeeping work as well. The town was grateful for the help in breaking up fights and discouraging crime, and Teppei had jokingly referred to them as the Digital World Disciplinary Committee. The pay was good, but they still needed the odd jobs to pay for their rooms at the inn and for food, so early every morning, they got up and headed off. It was supposed to be easy work—no fighting or anything. Then things just got weird.

            Koichi was the first. He’d been trying to put up posters on the sides of shops and houses. He was standing on a ladder, posting one on the higher level of a building when he suddenly felt it shaking. He grabbed a flowerbox to steady himself and looked down to ask Bokomon and Neemon to hold it still, but they were gone. Then the ladder fell out from underneath him, and his grip on the box wasn’t strong enough to keep him from falling. A few shadowy figures caught him in a rather large sack before disappearing in the alley.

            Katsuharu and Teppei were taken next. They had been helping with decorations for the festivities when a sudden gust of wind blew their hard work away. As they raced to catch it, they were surrounded on all sides by different Digimon. They evolved and tried to fight them, but a blow from behind knocked them both out cold.

            Chiaki was the toughest. She had been washing the Trailmon that had come in, and several Digimon attacked her. However, she had water and a Beast Spirit at her disposal, allowing her to defeat them all. It was only when a newcomer attacked her with a swarm of bats that she was captured, but even then, she fought back. It took several minutes and three Digimon to shackle her to a wall, next to her friends.

            “Keep it down,” Teppei muttered, he and Katsuharu waking up from her yelling. “Some of us are unconscious.”

            “You couldn’t fight them off?” Koichi asked.

            “I did, but then bat-guy attacked me,” she grumbled. “What about you?”

            Koichi blushed faintly. “I didn’t even get the chance. They threw me off a ladder.”

            “Ouch,” Teppei replied.

            “Well, at least Teruo’s okay,” Katsuharu said. “For now.”

            “You think that, don’t you?” asked their captor. A light suddenly turned on at the entrance of the lair, shining like a spotlight down on a Myotismon. Chiaki glared daggers at him. “He won’t be okay for long, once my Legions of Doom find him.”

            “Legions of Doom?” Teppei repeated.

            “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Katsuharu groaned.

            “Indeed you should,” Myotismon answered, missing the sarcasm. “You will be the bait to lure him here, and once I destroy him, I will have the Fractal Code of the great Angel-slayer!”

            Every last one of the captives groaned, and Teppei threw his head back against the wall.

            “Great job giving away everything in the first five minutes of your plan, stupid,” Katsuharu complained.

            ~~~

            Teruo had just come back from delivering a package on the other side of town when he found a ransom note left behind for him at the inn. Unfortunately, whoever had written the note had completely forgotten to leave behind an address where they should meet. He started running all over town, trying to find some trace of his missing friends and trying to hold off the impending panic.

            “Stop, knave!” shouted a voice from some distance away. “I will not allow you to terrorize these townsfolk!”

            Hoping that it was some clue to the others’ kidnapping, Teruo raced in the direction of the voice. His D-tector was in his hands already, and he was starting to scan his Fractal Code through it. But when he found that the disturbance was only a Knightmon fighting a windmill, he stopped in despair.

            “Ah, assistance,” Knightmon noticed. “Please, Sir Knight, aid me in slaying this beast.”

            “I would, but I’ve got something important to take care of,” Teruo replied.

            “Pardon me, then,” Knightmon replied, turning and bowing in respect. “I never meant to deter you from your quest. I shall vanquish this beast and free the town from its wrath.” Teruo couldn’t help but smile. Knightmon reminded him of a character in a book he’d once started reading but never got around to finishing—the idealistic knight who couldn’t quite separate reality from fantasy, almost like Teruo himself.

            Suddenly, one of the arms of the windmill came too close to Knightmon. Teruo tried to warn him, but the poor quixotic knight was knocked aside and hit the ground with a loud clank.

            “Are you okay?” Teruo asked.

            “Thank you, good Sir,” Knightmon replied. “I see that beast knows no chivalry, attacking while my back is turned!”

            “You’ll get him next time,” Teruo affirmed, smiling. But the smile faded as he came to a realization. “Did you see anyone carrying off some other humans and two small Digimon?”

            “Why, yes,” Knightmon answered. “A fair maiden was taken by a Myotismon not long ago. I tried to stop the knave, but this beast crossed my path, preventing me from following.”

            “Chiaki,” Teruo realized. “Please, tell me where they went. This Myotismon probably has all my friends.”

            “In the woods to the north.” Knightmon pointed to a dark forest. “I shall prevent the beast from following you. Good luck in your quest.”

            “Thanks,” Teruo replied. After a moment, he added, “You too.” Knightmon bowed and returned to battle with the windmill while Teruo made his way into the forest.

            The forest seemed to follow the stereotypes cemented through the ages by fairytales. No sunlight penetrated the barrier made by the tall trees, and Teruo could hear howling, cawing, and hooting from various Digimon. He remained cautious, though he was not afraid. Every breaking twig or rustling leaf was carefully observed, and he felt for the wind to be sure that nothing either obstructed it or caused it. So when a pack of Garurumon surrounded him on all sides, he evolved quickly, having expected it.

            “I guess I should have expected wolves though,” he said flatly. Really, it was too cliché.

            “Howling Blaster!” shouted one of the Garurumon.

            A blast of blue flames came out of his mouth. Mercurymon quickly raised one of his shields to block it, grimacing at the jolt it caused to his arms. While the flames were cold instead of hot and the shield had blocked them well, they had still caused his shield to strike against his armor, irritating his healing arm. At least the blisters were gone, but his skin was scarred and still rather sensitive. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the pain.

            Garurumon leapt for him, but he managed to throw him off and into a tree. Once that one was unconscious, another Garurumon attacked, and Mercurymon reflected his flames right back at him. When he was out of the picture, another started to attack.

            “Wait a second,” Mercurymon interrupted. “You’re taking turns fighting me?”

            “Well, yeah,” the latest Garurumon answered.

            “That’s what we were told to do,” another added. “First, the weakest attacks, and then we keep testing your strength by progressively sending someone stronger.”

            Mercurymon palmed his face. “This is going to take forever.”

            Meanwhile, in Myotismon’s lair, the captive Warriors were forced to watch the battle unfold. Teppei continued hitting his head against the wall while the others groaned.

            “You are the worst evil overlord ever,” Chiaki deadpanned.

            “How dare you question my tactics?” Myotismon exclaimed. “I have researched countless battles against the greatest of foes!”

            “Well, they obviously couldn’t have been that great, or at the very least, you have questionable sources,” Bokomon retorted. “I don’t fight, myself, but even I know your soldiers are violating the basic laws of combat.”

            “Is that Active Time Battle they’re using now?” Katsuharu asked, watching the Garurumon line up to attack Mercurymon in the style of a Final Fantasy videogame. Teppei, the only other person in the room who played videogames, groaned loudly.

            “Nobody fights like this!” Mercurymon shouted onscreen.

            “Congratulations,” Teppei grumbled. “You officially managed to piss off Teruo.”

            “Isn’t there some kind of list of things villains shouldn’t do?” Koichi asked, looking almost embarrassed to watch the battle.

            “If there isn’t, there should be,” Teppei replied.

            “Hmm, I’ll just have to do better,” Myotismon decided. A rabbit-like Digimon with gun-arms appeared onscreen next, and Bokomon gasped.

            “Who’s that?” Katsuharu asked.

            “That’s Gargomon!” he cried. “His weapons are automatic, and it’s said his accuracy is unparalleled!”

            “Yes, so let’s see how well the Angel-slayer will fare against twenty of them!” Myotismon declared before bursting into maniacal laughter.

            ~~~

            Mercurymon didn’t risk devolving; though the Garurumon had been easy to defeat (albeit tedious with their insistence on turn-based attacks), he didn’t want to be caught off-guard by anything else. He’d regained enough clarity of mind to activate his D-tector, following the compass through the woods. He tried to conceal its light as best as he could; as much as it could help him find the others, it could also help enemies find him. Carefully, he made his way through the woods, pausing every so often when he thought he heard something following him. But each time, it didn’t seem like there was anything to worry about, and he pressed on.

            The compass led him to a crumbling, vine-covered mansion in a very small clearing. Mercurymon stepped into the courtyard, observing the weeds and broken statues. Once upon a time, the manor was probably beautiful. Now, however, it was depressing. It was the perfect place for a villain to keep his lair.

            There was a sudden snapping noise behind him, as if a twig had broken under someone’s foot. He barely had the chance to realize it was an ambush before twenty Gargomon came out of hiding and fired.

            The kids watched in horror at the monitor. Mercurymon didn’t seem to have a chance to defend himself—unlike the Garurumon, the Gargomon attacked all at once. The gunfire kicked up the dirt around him, making it impossible to see what had happened.

            “No, please,” Chiaki begged. She was the only one who seemed to have a voice—the others were frozen in shock.

            But when the dust settled, Mercurymon was clearly standing dead center without a mark on him. Granted, he was covered in dirt, but not a single one of the shots had hit him. What started out as a sigh of relief for the Warriors turned into laughter as Myotismon gaped and stammered his disbelief. Teruo? Teruo was just annoyed.

            “You outnumber me, flank me on all sides, fire at once, and you miss me?” he asked. “What is wrong with you?” The others laughed even harder now.

            “Face it, Myotismon, nothing you try is going to work,” Chiaki said. “At this rate, Teruo won’t even need to fight you.”

            Myotismon smirked. “Thanks for the idea, little girl.”

            From his cape, he removed a tarnished medallion covered in faded runes. Slowly and deliberately, he walked by each child, as if trying to decide who would get it. But none of them were surprised when he turned to Koichi, who tried to duck out of the way and pull free from his shackles. No matter how much he tried to move, it was all in vain. The medallion was placed around his neck, and then his body suddenly became very limp.

            Mercurymon, in the meantime, was still fighting off the Gargomon, reflecting their fire all around the circle. Several had already fallen to this trick, and the last dozen or so were out of ammo. These ones he physically beat with his shields.

            “I’m getting a lot of Fractal Code out of this,” he mused as he rendered the Code he’d just scanned. A garden and a fountain appeared in the courtyard from the data; even though they were choked by weeds, they were a sign that the Digital World was being put back to normal with each donation of Code. But it made Teruo frown under his armor. “I wonder how long this guy’s been terrorizing this forest, if everything looks so bleak.”

            He walked into the mansion’s foyer, looking around. Everything appeared dusty and broken, as if no one lived there. For a second, confused, Mercurymon checked his compass again, but the signal remained as it had been. The others—or at least their D-tectors—were definitely here.

            “Lost, are we, Angel-slayer?” asked a dramatic Digimon on the nearby balcony.

            Mercurymon gave him a puzzled look. “I think you’re mistaken. I’m Teruo.”

            “You are the one who defeated Seraphimon, am I correct?”

            “Um, yeah,” he confessed. “But that was an accident.”

            “An accident? An accident destroy one of the Celestial Digimon, a god of the Digital World? You, Teruo, are the Angel-slayer—the destroyer of the gods! With your Fractal Code, I will have the power to expand beyond this pathetic forest and eventually rule the entire Digital World!”

            Mercurymon gave him a disbelieving look as he started laughing maniacally. “Look, not that this isn’t informative, but I really don’t have time to listen to your monologue. I’m here to save my friends!”

            “Don’t have the time?” Myotismon repeated incredulously. “Listen here, kid, I don’t think you get it. You’re the hero, I’m the villain. The monologue is a time-honored tradition—a staple of villain-hero relations!”

            “Sorry,” Mercurymon deadpanned, “but I like to try and avoid the old clichés.”

            Myotismon frowned. “You got the witty banter down.”

            Mercurymon sighed, “I blame Teppei.”

            “In any case,” Myotismon said, changing the subject, “it’s not me you have to worry about, Angel-slayer!” The doors below the balcony opened, and Duskmon walked out, wearing an odd medallion around his neck. “Say hello to your old friend, now my new slave!”

            “No,” Mercurymon denied.

            Duskmon extended his swords and charged at him. Mercurymon quickly raised his shields to block and jumped back to keep from falling. He’d never before realized just how strong his friend was; he’d never had to actually fight Koichi, merely weaken him during a battle to keep him from killing anyone. Now, he understood why anyone who went up against him and lived had been horribly injured afterward, such as Chiaki and Koji. And the fact that even with all this strength, Duskmon had been knocked out with one blow from fighting ShadowSeraphimon made Teruo realize just how lucky he was to have won.

            And yet, despite all of this, something in Duskmon’s fighting seemed off. He was every bit as strong, but something just wasn’t right. Mercurymon supposed it was whatever mind control he was under; in the countless stories where the plot device had been used, those under it were zombies in thought and action. He was positive the medallion was behind this—Myotismon made such a pathetic villain that something this obvious fit his pattern.

            But how am I going to get close enough to destroy it without getting killed? he asked himself. He had no illusions about his abilities; there was no way he could withstand a full-on assault by Duskmon.

            Although, he realized, if he fires anything at me, I can do something about that.

            He raised his shield as Duskmon made a particularly vicious swing at him. The sword hit the shield so hard that Teruo was afraid that the mirror would break, leaving him with very few options. In desperation, he tried to reach for the medallion, but the central eye fired a beam as he reached, blasting his hand right back into his shield. It had the dual effect of preventing a proper reflection and making his hand hurt badly. Duskmon leapt back, and Mercurymon shook his hand to try and lessen the pain. He was lucky the beam had only caused a minor burn rather than take his whole arm off.

            Okay, that won’t work, he thought, ignoring Myotismon’s pleased cackling. Time to find another approach.

            Instead of charging him, Mercurymon ducked and dodged, avoiding the swords as much as possible. To anyone else, it would have looked like he was running away. However, Teruo was trying to put to use the techniques Lilamon had taught him during the demonstration weeks ago in the Forest Kingdom. If he could avoid the physical attacks, Duskmon would eventually be forced to use his specialty attack.

            It took quite a bit of time, but Teruo was patient. At long last, Duskmon fired his Deadly Gaze. Mercurymon quickly absorbed it in one shield and fired it back…only to miss. Faster than Teruo’s mind or eyes could register, Duskmon had moved out of the way and come right up to him. Panic gripped him—there was no way he could match that speed and no way he could block anything this close!

            But instead of attacking, Duskmon put his swords close to Mercurymon’s abdomen and whispered, “Don’t. That’s the only thing keeping me in control.”

            “What?” Mercurymon asked in surprise, barely a second before being thrown across the room. He got up uneasily, giving Duskmon a puzzled look. He wasn’t entirely sure, but it looked like Koichi was still there—and in full control.

            “It’s no use trying to get through to him,” Myotismon insisted. “My medallion gives me complete control over him, suppressing his consciousness. The only thoughts left are the background ones—the instincts of the Spirit.”

            “Oh,” Mercurymon answered calmly.

            “What do you mean ‘oh’?” Myotismon asked.

            “Well, you missed something in this plan of yours,” he replied. “Koichi’s not the dominant consciousness in this form. The Spirit is. Guess which one you suppressed.”

            “Oh,” Myotismon realized seconds before a Deadly Gaze blasted him through the wall.

            Mercurymon walked over to Duskmon and did one thing he never would have thought of in any other situation: he tapped him on the shoulder.

            “Yeah?” Duskmon asked.

            “Why didn’t you do this earlier?” Mercurymon asked, pointing up at the hole in the wall left from Myotismon’s conservation of momentum. “You could have saved us both a lot of trouble.”

            He shrugged. “I was kind of winging it. I wanted to find out where we were taken before I tried breaking everyone out and escaping. I didn’t really plan on the fight going on like that, but I figured it was good if Myotismon relaxed his guard.”

            “Very clever,” Myotismon gasped, pulling himself from the wreckage and dusting himself off (it didn’t help; there was enough dust on him to suggest he’d gotten in a fight in a quarry, or with one for that matter). He leapt down from the balcony, and Mercurymon and Duskmon adopted fighting stances. “So, Angel-slayer—” Both Warriors rolled their eyes at the epithet—“what are your feelings on your father?”

            Mercurymon looked at Duskmon in confusion, but when he didn’t have an answer, Mercurymon was forced to answer, “Kind of neutral, I guess. Just because of the way he treated me growing up.”

            “No, Teruo,” Myotismon replied. “I am your—”

            They groaned, and Mercurymon said, “Don’t even go there. We both saw the movie.”

            Myotismon pouted. “Evil twin?”

            “He’s already got one,” Mercurymon answered, pointing at Duskmon.

            “What?” Myotismon asked.

            Duskmon shrugged. “Fraternal.”

            “Close cousin?” Myotismon tried again.

            “I’d take an ax to my family tree before that happened.”

            Sensing an impending fight, Duskmon cut in, “So we’ve established you two aren’t in any way related. Can we move on?”

            Mercurymon gave him a sideways glance. “Never thought I’d see you try to break up a fight. Or at least in that form, anyway. Looks like this day is just full of surprises.”

            “Get the others,” Duskmon said. “They’re through that door, down the hall, and behind the bookcase.”

            “A revolving bookcase?” Mercurymon groaned.

            “What’s wrong this time?” Myotismon asked.

            “You really have no idea how many times that’s been used,” he replied.

            “You can’t miss it,” Duskmon continued. “The switch is the blue book on the third shelf. I’ll take care of this.”

            Mercurymon shrugged and ran off. “Have fun.”

            Koichi wasn’t kidding when he said Teruo wouldn’t be able to miss the bookcase. The long hall suddenly stopped at it, without any other rooms or corridors. Furthermore, the blue book on the third shelf was the only blue book on the entire case. For a brief moment, he wondered if Myotismon even cared about keeping his evil lair a secret.

            The revolving bookcase opened to a long, dark, twisting stone staircase. Mercurymon carefully made his way down to a dimly-lit cave. It didn’t take long for him to see that the others had been moved sometime after Koichi left, but even so, Mercurymon paused for a second to quip, “Somehow, I expected a dungeon.”

            “Well, I wanted one, but the foundation wasn’t good with that cave under there, so I decided to kill two Birdramon with one stone,” Myotismon informed from a monitor. A devolved Koichi was lying unconscious behind him. All at once, the exits to the cave were sealed off, and water started to rush in. “Now that I have you in my trap, would you like to say a few words before your inevitable demise?”

            Teruo decided not to waste the breath and destroyed the computer before devolving.

            Okay, he couldn’t have sealed off everything, he reasoned. The water has to be coming from somewhere, so if I can find out where, maybe I can either swim out or plug it up so I have more time.

            He started searching around every crack in the cave, searching for some way out. Meanwhile, the water steadily began to rise, first reaching his calves, then his knees. Even so, he forced himself to remain calm, focusing on finding the water’s entry point. But it was difficult; no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t seem to feel where it was pouring in. The water level was up to his chest by the time he located a narrow, vertical tunnel—an escape chute of some kind. Quickly, he located a heavy piece of equipment, braced himself for impact, and swam forward, using it as a battering ram. It took several attempts to smash it open, and by then, he was desperately floating.

            A sword suddenly cut through the damaged door of the chute, and contrary to every one of Teruo’s expectations, Knightmon emerged from the chute.

            If I ever needed a deus ex machina, it’s now, Teruo thought in relief as Knightmon walked over to him.

            “Sir Knight, when I defeated that beast and discovered this tunnel, I knew that our paths would cross again,” he said.

            “I think the explanations can wait for later,” Teruo replied. “I can’t seem to find a way out of here.”

            “Allow me to assist you, out of respect for your kindness and valor,” Knightmon answered, holding his sword out. Aiming at one of the walls, he cried out, “Electric Slash!” The stone crumbled, and Knightmon continued his assault on the wall until it had formed a passage back to the manor.

            The water had started pushing through slowly, but it sped up rapidly the longer the tunnel got, thanks in part to the water-flow within the cave itself. Teruo had gone under at one point, but Knightmon held him above water the rest of the way. When they finally made it out of the death trap, Teruo was leaning heavily against Knightmon, coughing up muddied water.

            “Thanks,” he said once he could breathe.

            “It was nothing,” Knightmon replied. “I swore that I would not deter you from your quest, so I will attempt to aid you in any way I can.”

            “Thanks,” Teruo answered again, searching around the room. “Right now, I need to find out where Myotismon took my friends. My compass isn’t much help at this short range.”

            “Have you any other ideas?” Knightmon checked.

            “Actually, yes,” Teruo replied, seeing an air vent near the ceiling. “Can you help me get up there? Knowing Myotismon, he wouldn’t expect this obvious route.”

            It took some time for them both to climb into the ventilation shaft, and Teruo wasn’t sure why he was so surprised to see it was big enough for them both to walk in. When he was sure that the vent would support the extra weight, he evolved. But once he was fully evolved to Mercurymon, Knightmon started in surprise.

            “I’m sorry,” Mercurymon apologized. “I know the fact that I can evolve is odd…”

            “The Knight of Mirrors!” Knightmon declared. “Forgive me for not recognizing you before, a knight of such fine caliber. I apologize for my foolishness against that beast, and I am eternally grateful and honored that you were kind enough to assist me, even though you had your quest.”

            “It’s all right,” Mercurymon quickly assured. “Besides, you saved me just now, so we’re even.” Knightmon didn’t quite look convinced, so he distracted him by saying, “I never did ask you what your quest is.”

            “My quest is not as grand as yours, I am afraid,” Knightmon confessed. “You nobly devote yourself to protecting the world, while I am only the guardian of the town. The villagers live unaware of the danger that threatens them, and I am forever thankful that they never have a reason to realize it. Some do not believe in my quest, but I continue to have faith that even my small actions will benefit the world.”

            Mercurymon smiled. “That’s a grand enough quest, I think. I’ve always believed that there’s no such thing as an unreachable star and that the world will be better if people took notice of one person trying to make a difference and just learned from his example. In a way, I don’t think our quests are all that different.”

            ~~~

            “So, you got captured again?” Katsuharu observed once Koichi woke up.

            He shrugged. “At least this time, I had my dignity back.”

            “True enough.” He looked over to Teppei. “And you can quit smacking your head against the wall. You’re just going to stay conscious.”

            “Damn,” Teppei muttered. “I was hoping I’d finally manage to get out of a monologue. Koichi, you are so damn lucky you were out during the death trap one.”

            “Teruo is going to be okay, right?” Koichi asked. “I didn’t mean to lead him into a trap.”

            “Honestly, with the way things have been going, Teruo’s the last one we have to worry about,” Chiaki replied.

            “You think that, do you?” Myotismon demanded, and everyone moaned, dreading another monologue. “There’s no possible way for him to survive a total flood like that, Angel-slayer or not!” He burst once again into maniacal laughter before getting cut off by an air vent cover hitting him in the head. Mercurymon and Knightmon jumped out of the ventilation duct, ready for battle.

            “It is about time you got here,” Teppei groaned. “Do you realize how badly he’s been torturing us with his mistakes? Neemon would make a better supervillain! I half-expected him to tie us to the railroad tracks!”

            “I would have,” Myotismon replied, “but those Trailmon can stop on a dime.”

            “So you’ve got me here,” Mercurymon told Myotismon, choosing to ignore Teppei’s complaints. “Now let my friends go.”

            “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

            “Why? Are they still too important to your ‘plan’?”

            Katsuharu frowned. “You know what, what were you planning on doing to us? You got Teruo to come here, so then what?”

            Myotismon fidgeted. “I actually didn’t plan that out yet…”

            Everyone but Knightmon groaned, and Mercurymon palmed his face in disbelief, crying, “After all you put me through, you didn’t even know what you were doing?”

            “I thought it was obvious before, but now…” Teppei added.

            No one expected it, but given Teruo’s steadily declining tolerance and sanity that day, everyone should have seen it. Mercurymon ripped one of his shields off and hurled it at Myotismon’s head. When Myotismon tried retaliating with Crimson Lightning, Mercurymon absorbed it in his remaining shield before letting it shoot out of the thrown mirror, which was still right in front of Myotismon. Without any kind of finesse, Mercurymon rammed into him, taking the opportunity to pick up his fallen shield. While he was busy, Knightmon freed the others, who watched on, somewhat disturbed but definitely sympathetic.

            “Well, he’s finally cracked,” Teppei pointed out. “And that’s not a pun.”

            Katsuharu winced at a particularly harsh blow Myotismon took. “I don’t know if he deserved that…”

            Mercurymon hit him again, and Chiaki said, “That he deserved.”

            “I think he can let him go,” Koichi added. “Myotismon proved that he’s not much of a threat to anyone.”

            “Justice must be served,” Knightmon argued. “I agree with the Knight of Mirrors.”

            The others all glanced at him, starting to get the feeling they had another crackpot on their hands. But deeming him a preferable crackpot, Teppei muttered, “At least it’s better than ‘Angel-slayer.’”

            Bats suddenly came toward them, so they scrambled to get out of the way of the attack. This unfortunately, led to them splitting up even though they were in a small area. Myotismon rushed over and grabbed Chiaki, holding her in front of him as she tried to get free.

            “Try and attack me now, Angel-slayer,” he dared.

            Everyone was worried, but for an entirely different reason. Koichi asked, “Is he using her as a human shield?” just seconds before Chiaki kicked Myotismon in the groin. The boys all winced in sympathy. To add insult to injury, as he staggered back, he tripped over his cape.

            “You’re the hostage!” Myotismon gasped out as Chiaki ran back to the others. “Hostages aren’t supposed to fight back!”

            “And evil overlords are supposed to be competent,” Mercurymon replied, holding out one of his shields. “Knightmon, I could use a little help.”

            “Of course,” Knightmon replied, sending an attack into one of the shields. Mercurymon reflected it at the prone Myotismon, hardly reacting when it reduced him to Fractal Code. He scanned and rendered it quickly, sagging in exhaustion and irritation upon devolving.

            “Can we just go home now?” Katsuharu asked.

            “I’m all for that idea,” Bokomon agreed.

            “I don’t know, it wasn’t that bad,” Neemon replied.

            “What do you mean it wasn’t that bad?” Bokomon demanded. “We were held hostage for hours by the single worst villain the Digital World has ever known! He chained us to a wall!”

            “What chain?” Neemon asked. “I got out.”

            Starting with Teruo, the kids gave Neemon murderous glares. The only thing that saved him from their wrath was the fact that Bokomon decided to snap his waistband several times.

            “Let’s just go already,” Chiaki urged, and no one argued.

            ~~~

            It was nearing sunset by the time they got out of the woods, and it was certainly a much better trip leaving than entering. The returned data had brightened the forest, bringing life back to the trees and ridding it of its ominous atmosphere. Teruo felt his tension ease as he looked around at everything, and he started to feel a deeper connection to the Digital World. It was responding to his attempts to save it, and that made all the difference.

            “Knightmon?” he asked. The self-proclaimed protector looked over at him. “When we first met, how did you know I was a fighter, even without my armor? I’m not much of a Warrior—my only real attacks are defense. I can’t even fight Koichi when he is in control of his Spirit, and that’s always weakened him.”

            “Your warrior’s soul shone through,” Knightmon explained. “I could see it when I first saw you—you were in possession of great fealty, nobility, and chivalry. Your actions only confirmed that. I am honored to have known you.” Slowly, Teruo grinned.

            “Hey, what happened to the windmill?” Teppei suddenly called out, and Teruo’s grin faded.

            “Please, just don’t ask.”

 

Just about everything in this chapter either came from the Evil Overlord List by Peter Anspach or Don Quixote by Cervantes. While I have not read the actual novel, much of my information on Don Quixote comes from pop culture and the musical Man of La Mancha. The conversation between Teruo and “Don Knightmon” about his quest was directly inspired by the song “The Impossible Dream” from the musical. Myotismon, in the meantime, was an amalgamation of everything the Evil Overlord List says you shouldn’t do and Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible. Major thanks to Shaun Garin and Ryan Griffin for contributing crack.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Fourteen: “Atonement”

            Vines burst out of the ground, tearing up the earth. Duskmon leapt into the air to avoid them and gathered his energy for the Lunar Plasma attack. He struck Petaldramon between the eyes, throwing him back several meters. It wasn’t quite enough to destroy him, though. The Beast Spirit was too strong for that. But with his adversary prone, Duskmon used his greatest advantage—speed—and sliced along his side with both swords. Petaldramon shouted in agony, and Duskmon once again shot into the night sky, sweeping one sword across to create a crescent of red energy. It slashed into Petaldramon’s body, forcing out his Fractal Code. Duskmon landed lightly and scanned it, taking both Spirits.

            “And then what happened?” Teppei interrupted.

            Koichi was almost on the floor from shrinking in his seat at the sudden attention he’d gotten the minute they’d walked into the Burgermon’s restaurant. “I passed out and woke up here days later. I’d been tracking him down nonstop, and between that and the Spirit, I was exhausted.”

            Teppei settled back in his own seat. “You’re just awful when it comes to the spotlight, you know that? It’s like pulling teeth trying to get a story out of you.”

            “Leave him alone, Teppei,” Chiaki insisted.

            Teppei snorted. “Yeah, like I believe that. You want the rest of the story just as much as I do.”

            “That’s really it,” Koichi said. “There’s nothing else to tell.”

            Hearing this, the Digimon that had gathered around the table, eager to hear the tale of the village’s hero, dispersed and went back to their dinner. Without all of the extra attention on him, Koichi sat up and returned to his own meal. It had gotten cold, but at least, Papa Burgermon was such a good chef that a little thing like temperature didn’t have too bad an effect on his cooking.

            “So what happened to the Beast Spirit?” Teruo asked, sotto voce.

            Koichi swallowed a bite of his hamburger and answered, “It’s around. I wanted to be sure it was safe before I left.”

            Bokomon was hastily scribbling notes in his book. This was the first any of them had heard of Koichi’s adventures before they’d all met, not to mention the first they’d really heard of Cherubimon’s previous Warriors. Neemon, who had only been half-listening to the story anyway, was playing with the rest of his dinner. Teppei tried to settle down, plotting ways to get more from Koichi later. Chiaki caught the look on his face and started plotting countermeasures to keep him from bothering their friend. Teruo, in contrast to Teppei, simply hoped that there would be room for more stories later. Katsuharu, on the other hand, digested all of the information. While it had been an exciting tale once they’d gotten Koichi to talk, there was still the undeniable fact that the village had suffered from the event. And worse, it was because of the previous bearer of the Spirits of Wood.

            Funny, Katsuharu thought, I’ve been a bully for so long, and now I’m worried about repairing the reputation the other guy ruined for me. When did that happen?

            Activity started to pick up again. A couple of Digimon brought out some instruments and started playing. When they asked for a singer, Chiaki volunteered to help. She learned the lyrics quickly, as the song was very similar to one from the human world. She impressed even Teppei with her singing, and after he managed to stop gaping at her, he glared due to his inability to think of anything insulting to say to her. She smirked while the others applauded. More stories went around, including—much to Teruo’s embarrassment—the recent battle against Myotismon. Everyone broke into laughter over such a pathetic villain and especially over Teruo’s constant forehead-palming at the memories.

            “The one thing he could have done right was the medallion,” he said. “And even that backfired!”

            “Whatever happened to it, anyway?” Chiaki asked.

            Koichi shrugged. “I think he threw it away after he knocked me out.”

            “That’s one lesson he learned,” Teppei commented while Teruo shook his head in disappointment. “I think you win for the weirdest adventure ever.”

            Teruo raised an eyebrow at this. “Weren’t you the one who got stuck up to your chin in quicksand trying to find your Spirit?”

            This prompted another round of stories, and by the time they’d gotten to the defeat of Seraphimon, it was already midnight. But the whole time, Katsuharu kept quiet, trying to formulate a plan. He knew he had to do something to make amends, but he wasn’t sure what. It took the whole night for him to think of something that even sounded halfway plausible. The Burgermon were forced to close up shop, though they offered the Warriors room for the night, out of gratitude toward Koichi.

            “It is weird being in a town where Koichi’s the big hero,” Teppei said as he and Katsuharu headed off to one room. “You know?”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed distractedly. “Listen, you head off to bed. I need to take care of something.”

            “Something?”

            “Yeah, something.”

            Teppei shook his head. “You’re all the worst liars I’ve ever met—every last one of you.”

            Katsuharu snorted and shoved his best friend in the door. “Shut up and go to bed already!”

            Waiting until everyone had gone to bed, he snuck downstairs and started to investigate. To be honest, he had no idea where Koichi might have hidden the Beast Spirit—even the D-tector wasn’t picking it up. Honestly, the best person at guessing Koichi’s hiding place would probably be Chiaki, but Katsuharu didn’t want to reveal what he was doing. It was part of the whole reason why he and Koichi weren’t on such good terms as they’d been before—he didn’t trust Koichi’s judgment when it came to the Spirits.

            Truth be told, Katsuharu did want the Beast Spirit, but not for anything as simple as winning against Ophanimon’s Warriors. The previous Arbormon had made the village suffer, practically enslaving the Burgermon. When they’d walked into town, Katsuharu could feel the twisted, broken roots and vines Petaldramon had used in his attacks. Katsuharu didn’t trust Koichi’s judgment in leaving the Beast Spirit here. To him, it was cruel. Why should they have that constant reminder around? And what if someone came across it, even though Koichi said it was secure? The village did not deserve to have to face that kind of damage all over again.

            So far, these Beast Spirits haven’t brought anything other than trouble, he thought. If they weren’t so important in the fight against Ophanimon, he’d rather they were gone, even if it meant they were destroyed.

            Suddenly, he heard something behind him. He whirled around, ready to attack if need be, completely forgetting that he was in the wrong to begin with. Papa Burgermon was giving him a puzzled look.

            “Was there something you needed?” he asked.

            Katsuharu tried to think of something to say, but nothing came to mind. He was caught in the act of attempted theft, and no matter how much he tried to explain himself, he’d only dig his grave even deeper. He realized that maybe the best way to prove he was nothing like his predecessor wasn’t through taking the Spirit, but by earning it.

            “Actually,” he confessed, “I wanted to know if there was anything I could do.”

            ~~~

            Teppei woke up late in the morning, fully rested. It took him a few minutes to realize that there was something horribly wrong with that observation: he and Katsuharu had been sharing a room. Katsuharu snored; Teppei was a light sleeper. Ergo, Teppei should not have slept well if he’d been rooming with Katsuharu. And sure enough, it didn’t look like Katsuharu had been in his bed at all.

            He leapt out of bed and ran outside, nearly knocking over the others as they came out of their rooms. Katsuharu’s vague statement from the night before echoed in his ears—had something gone wrong when he’d gone to take care of his errand?

            A full breakfast was on the table downstairs, but there was no sign of Katsuharu. Papa Burgermon saw Teppei and greeted, “Good morning! We heard you starting to wake up, so we made a big breakfast for all of you.”

            “Have you seen Katsuharu?” Teppei asked.

            “He’s in the kitchen, washing the dishes,” Papa Burgermon explained. “He said he couldn’t sleep last night, so he’s been helping with the cleaning.”

            Teppei could have dropped from shock right then and there. Katsuharu was not a neat person by any means—the fact that he’d even been able to consider the possibility of losing his D-tector back at the Toucanmon’s restaurant was proof of that. If it was like pulling teeth trying to get Koichi to enjoy the spotlight, it was like pulling toenails trying to get Katsuharu to clean.

            “What’s going on?” Chiaki asked, coming down with the others. “You nearly ran us over on your way down.”

            “Katsuharu wasn’t in the room this morning, and I doubt he’s been to bed at all,” Teppei answered. “Burgermon says he’s been cleaning.” They all gave him skeptical looks, and he raised his hands. “Hey, I’m just passing along the message.”

            “That’s weird,” Teruo confessed.

            “Well, we can’t do much about it if Katsuharu decides he wants to help out,” Bokomon said. “We might as well have breakfast and wait for him to finish.” Shrugging, they all sat down to eat.

            The Burgermon couple believed in eating heartily, so breakfast was a big affair. It took an hour to get through the meal, and yet Katsuharu still hadn’t shown up. They had set a plate aside for him, but when he didn’t show, Neemon finished the leftovers.

            “Do you think he’s all right?” Koichi asked.

            “I don’t know,” Teppei admitted. “I’m going in to check.”

            They walked into the kitchen to see Katsuharu asleep at the sink. They tried waking him, but he barely responded. Other than that, nothing seemed to be wrong with him, so they carefully brought him upstairs and put him in bed.

            “Okay, does anyone have any clue what that was all about?” Teppei asked, but everyone else shrugged. “He’s been acting weird since last night.”

            “Come to think of it, he wasn’t talking a lot then,” Chiaki remembered. “We were just so caught up in the excitement and everything that I missed it.”

            “What do you think might be wrong?” Koichi asked.

            They sat on the beds in Koichi and Teruo’s room, trying to piece together the problem. They threw around different theories, from illness (“I doubt it,” Teruo said. “He was fine yesterday morning, and we all ate the same thing last night.”) to long-reaching problems from the past (“But we would have caught onto it before now, right?” Chiaki asked.). But nothing they came up with seemed to fit.

            Teruo groaned. “I can’t think of anything. All we know is that he wasn’t joining in on all the stories and everything last night.”

            “He didn’t even yell at me when I played with his food,” Neemon added.

            “What did you do?” Bokomon demanded.

            “He wasn’t eating his dinner, so I played with the leftovers,” Neemon explained. “I made a house and little people…”

            “When did this happen?” Chiaki interrupted. “And did he look sick or anything?”

            “No,” Neemon answered. “But he was quiet, like he was thinking. It was during Koichi’s story.”

            “During my story?” Koichi repeated in surprise. “But why?” Then the answer hit him, and he put his head in his hands. “Arbormon. I didn’t even think about that.”

            “You’ve been arguing about your Spirit a lot lately,” Teruo noticed. “It probably bothered him when he realized his Spirit wasn’t as good as he thought it was.”

            Teppei groaned. “That reminds me—last night, before I went to bed, he said he wanted to take care of ‘something.’ How much do you want to bet that he was looking for the Beast Spirit?”

            “But he didn’t find it,” Chiaki observed. “He’s been so worked up about his reputation since we first started. When he couldn’t find his Beast Spirit, he probably tried to do the next best thing to try and make amends.”

            “But that Arbormon wasn’t him,” Koichi reminded them. “He wasn’t even anything close.”

            “You’ve never told us anything else about the previous Warriors,” Bokomon pointed out. “We don’t know what they were like, and the Spirit was probably enough of a similarity to shake Katsuharu.”

            “So what do we do?” Teruo asked. “There’s not really anything we can do, is there?”

            “It might help if he has the Beast Spirit,” Koichi decided. “The Burgermon promised to protect it for me. If I just explain everything to them, I’m sure they’ll understand what’s going on with Katsuharu.”

            “You think it’ll work?” Chiaki checked.

            “I don’t know,” he confessed. “But it’s all we have.”

            ~~~

            Katsuharu woke up sometime in the afternoon with his stomach and head hurting from not eating. He was a little surprised to see that he’d fallen asleep, but in retrospect, his sudden lack of consciousness made a lot of sense. He even felt a little sore from scrubbing and mopping the night before.

            Guess I’d better eat something before I pass out again, he realized.

            The others were helping serve lunch to the customers that came in, and they were glad to see he was up and around. Once things had settled down, they joined him at a table for their own lunch. He could tell they wanted to tell him something, but they were all too tired and hungry to try talking. They let each other eat first before saying anything. There was a surprising lack of banter or pleasantries. Whatever they wanted to say, they wanted to get it out without softening the blow with petty words.

            “So what’s up?” he asked. If they wanted to get down to business so badly, he wasn’t going to sit through the pleasantries either.

            They looked at each other for a minute before Chiaki declared, “We know you were looking for the Beast Spirit last night.” Katsuharu’s face took on a neutral expression. “And that you were trying to make amends with the Burgermon.”

            “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Katsuharu replied.

            Teppei rolled his eyes. “None of us are buying that bullshit. Just listen to us for a change.”

            “You didn’t have to do anything,” Koichi insisted. “The Burgermon don’t hold anything against you just for having the same Spirit as the Arbormon who attacked them.”

            “You’re imagining things,” Katsuharu argued. “Nothing’s wrong. I couldn’t sleep last night, so I went down to help Burgermon. I guess I was more tired than I realized because I fell asleep by morning.”

            “Katsuharu,” Teruo said calmly but firmly, “the last time we heard that, Koichi was trying to keep us from finding out he was practicing with his Spirit.” Katsuharu became acutely aware that Koichi was staring at him, but he refused to look back. He wasn’t rising to their bait.

            There were a couple of seconds of silence before Koichi finally added, “The Arbormon I fought was nothing like you. He really didn’t care about anyone. What mattered to him was getting what he wanted—same as all of those Warriors. You’re different.”

            “Katsuharu, we just want to help,” Chiaki insisted. “The Beast Spirits are tough to deal with. You can’t let it control you—you’re doing that now, even though you don’t have it.”

            Katsuharu was about to deny it again, but several Digimon ran into the restaurant in a panic, screaming about several Chamelemon attacking outside. Immediately, Katsuharu was ready for action, but the others hadn’t moved from their seats. “Come on, guys, what’s up with you? We need to take care of this!”

            “It’s your fight,” Teruo affirmed.

            Katsuharu would have argued further, but the others were giving him a cool, even stare and the danger outside was growing. He had no time to wait for them. And though he could probably take down the Chamelemon in his Human Spirit, he knew he needed to face this sooner rather than later. Koichi suddenly looked past Katsuharu, who followed his gaze to the kitchen. At last, he ran over to find Papa Burgermon.

            “Burgermon, I’m sorry,” he apologized breathlessly as he barged in. “I need the Beast Spirit.”

            “There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Papa Burgermon replied. He was completely unfazed, as if he’d been expecting this for a while. He probably had been. “As long as you’re going to use it to save people, I know it will be in good hands.”

            And even though his friends had said the exact same thing, Katsuharu felt better hearing it from the source. “Thanks.”

            Papa Burgermon opened a safe hidden in the wall. The Spirit looked like a dark flower mounted on a pedestal, but it certainly didn’t look or feel frail. Katsuharu took a moment to allow the Spirit to enter his D-tector. He thought he felt something odd when the Spirit connected him—he felt more confident, for one, and disinclined to put up with any nonsense. He didn’t dwell on it, however, and instead ran out to the street. The Chamelemon were attacking anyone who was unfortunate enough to be out in the open, and the minute they saw Katsuharu, they came over to him.

            “Looks like another weak one,” one noticed. “Should we even bother?”

            Katsuharu smirked. “Always underestimating your opponents. What you see as weak may come back to bite you in the ass.”

            The leader scowled. “A smartass, eh? Tear him apart!”

            “Not today,” Katsuharu answered, holding up his D-tector. “Execute Beast Spirit Evolution!”

            But something went wrong. Where the Human Spirit of Wood was structure and support, the Beast Spirit would have none of that. Katsuharu’s control splintered, and the Spirit’s will took root. Petaldramon was back, and though his personality was different, he was still intent on causing damage.

            “So who’s tearing who apart now?” he demanded as he blew a Leaf Cyclone at the Chamelemon. They weren’t able to keep a good grip, and they were thrown into neighboring buildings, creating large holes. Several houses also lost their roofs from the wind and leaves. The Digimon that were still on the street weren’t safe either. While most of them managed to get behind something the moment they saw the attack coming, they were still cut up from the sharp leaves. Petaldramon just couldn’t make himself care. He wanted the Chamelemon to hurt.

            “Katsuharu, what are you doing?” shouted a familiar voice. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he connected the voice to a name: Teruo. The name was connected to the person soon enough: a quiet, naïve boy who could never manage to open his eyes to reality—a wimp.

            There were others with him, and Petaldramon remembered them well enough: Chiaki, Koichi, and Teppei. Chiaki was always getting in his business, standing against him when she felt like it. Koichi was one of the most foolish people he’d ever met. Teppei wasn’t nearly as bad as they were, but he was an idiot. And they were in his way, so he couldn’t stand for that. He slammed his tail against the ground, shooting vines through. They wrapped around the four kids, keeping them immobile while he continued his fight.

            “Don’t think I’m so weak now, huh?” he demanded as a Chamelemon tried to attack him. He knocked it aside easily with his tail, and its Fractal Code appeared upon impact.

            Chiaki couldn’t look when Petaldramon scanned the Chamelemon’s data. She tried to focus on getting free so she could fight with her Beast Spirit, but the vines were too tightly bound around her arms and legs. She tried pulling out of them, but she only succeeded in scraping herself.

            “This isn’t working,” she said. “Is anyone any better off?”

            “I might stand a chance,” Teppei confessed. He’d had his D-tector in hand when he ran out, out of habit. Somehow, he’d kept hold of it when they were attacked. “Teruo, can you grab my D-tector and scan my Code through it?”

            “I’ll try,” Teruo promised, reaching for Teppei’s hand. The vines scraped against his scarred arms, making him wince in pain, but he forced himself to ignore it. It was difficult trying to grab the D-tector, but finally, he managed to get a decent grip on it. Carefully, he maneuvered it in his hand so that the scanner was facing Teppei. A ring of Fractal Code was already around the other boy’s hand, and Teruo managed to get the digivice to scan it.

            “Execute Spirit Evolution!” Teppei cried.

            Grumblemon was strong and heavy enough to break the vines around him. He was about to rescue the others when Koichi shouted, “Stop Katsuharu! He needs help more than we do.”

            “All right,” Grumblemon agreed, hefting his hammer over his shoulder. “Between the eyes?”

            Koichi attempted a shrug. “I don’t know. He might know to watch himself there. Just do whatever works.”

            “Okay,” Grumblemon answered. “My favorite plan.”

            The irony of what he was about to do wasn’t lost on him. When he and Katsuharu had first met, Katsuharu had tried picking on him. Apparently, his sisters had been bothering him, and he decided to take it out on the kids he ran into. He didn’t expect Teppei to fight back, and he seemed to respect him for it. Somewhere down the line, they went from antagonists to friends. Teppei still wasn’t sure who had been a bad influence on whom. But now, here they were again: Katsuharu was trying to pick a fight with him, and Teppei was going to fight back.

            “Hey, Katsuharu!” he shouted. Petaldramon half-turned to look at him. Grumblemon smirked. “Just like old times.”

            A Leaf Cyclone came at him, but he managed to stand his ground firmly. The wind, however, did blow some debris his way, and he was forced to smash most of it as it flew toward him. When the wind had subsided, he rushed forward, hammer over his head. Petaldramon tried to avoid the attack, but big as he was, he wasn’t very fast. Grumblemon smashed one of his front legs, trying not to feel too pleased at the sight of the splintered dent in the wood. Even though he was possessed by the Beast Spirit, Katsuharu was still his best friend.

            That didn’t, however, mean that he wasn’t going to get some sense beaten into him. Grumblemon made this vow as he was thrown into one of the buildings when he tried to attack another leg. He also knew that he wasn’t going to be able to take another attack like that. He couldn’t even get up from this one. Petaldramon turned in his direction, and Grumblemon braced himself for the blow.

            “Katsuharu?” asked a calm voice. Both turned in shock to see Papa Burgermon walking toward them. In the distance, Mama was trying to untangle the others from the vines.

            “Get out of here!” Grumblemon warned. “He’s out of control!” Already, Petaldramon was turning in his direction, looking ready to attack. Grumblemon reached for his hammer, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do anything in time.

            “I know what I’m doing,” Papa Burgermon assured him. To Petaldramon, he said, “Katsuharu, when I gave you that Spirit, I trusted that you wouldn’t let the past repeat itself. When you volunteered to try and make up for what your predecessor did, I saw your integrity and determination. I hoped that would be enough to help you keep your mind.” Petaldramon stood right in front of him, but oddly enough, didn’t attack. He was listening, and that encouraged everyone else to stay out of the confrontation. “Your friends told me about your past and that you’re trying to prove to yourself that you’re better than the bully you once were. This isn’t you.” He gestured to the destruction around them. “This is your past and the Spirit’s past. Move on.”

            “You’re right,” Petaldramon finally agreed. “This isn’t me.”

            In the background, the devolved Warriors sighed in relief. Instead of celebrating the prevention of absolute catastrophe, Grumblemon jumped up and smacked Petaldramon in the back of the head with his hammer. There was a loud shout of “Ouch!” and swearing before both Warriors devolved.

            “What was that for?” Katsuharu asked, rubbing his bruised head. “I was done attacking!”

            “Trust me, you deserved it,” Teppei replied.

            ~~~

            There wasn’t a lot of celebration that day because of the damage the village had taken. While helping with the repairs, Katsuharu apologized as much as he could, but none of the villagers said anything to him. Papa Burgermon was highly respected in the village, and as long as he vouched for Katsuharu, no one would say anything against him. But Katsuharu knew that what he’d done—intentionally or not—would still be a driving force in their minds, and so he worked hard to fix his mistakes, the right way this time.

            Of course, this meant the mistakes he’d made with his team too. And it meant he had to swallow his pride and do what he really didn’t want to. He’d never particularly liked admitting when he was wrong, but he was man enough to do it. So after taking a quick shower after repainting one of the houses, he went out looking for Koichi.

            Koichi was sitting on the porch, stargazing, when Katsuharu came over. Thinking something was wrong, he quickly got up.

            “No, sit down,” Katsuharu said, taking a seat nearby. Confused at Katsuharu’s somewhat defeated attitude, Koichi sat down again cautiously. “Listen, I’m sorry about giving you such a hard time about your Spirit. I was trying to think of what was best for all of us, and I guess I didn’t look at the bigger picture. Now that I’ve gone through it myself, I know—we need those Spirits, no matter how hard they are to control. We’re just going to have to be stronger than they are.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi agreed, but Katsuharu could hear the distraction in his voice.

            “Something wrong?” he checked.

            “Not much,” Koichi admitted. “I was just thinking that this feels a lot like the last time I fought here.” Katsuharu tried not to wince. “Once everything settled down, everyone tried to focus on celebrating. I just didn’t feel like doing anything other than staying in my room the whole time. Arbormon was my first kill, and I felt awful about it. He wasn’t a friend or anything—none of the other Warriors seemed to like me all that much, and I just tried to stay out of their way. But we were still on the same side.”

            For a moment, Katsuharu wanted to say that he sympathized, since his first kill had been for very similar reasons, but he forced himself not to think about it. As far as he was concerned, the past would stay in the past. Even so, he managed to say, “Yeah. It’s rough.”

            “The worst part of all was trying not to evolve afterwards,” Koichi continued. “When the memory came back to me, I felt sick. It was my first evolution, and I’d completely lost control. But no matter how hard I tried to deny it, some part of me liked it. I was powerful, and I’d never been that way in my life. Everything always happened to me, but now I had a choice in making them happen. As much as I hated the Spirit, I liked that freedom.”

            “Freedom in slavery,” Katsuharu observed, and Koichi hesitantly nodded. “Kind of sounds like what the Beast Spirits are all about, only they’re easier to control.” Once again, Koichi nodded. “Hey, we’d better get inside before the dinner rush starts.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi agreed. There wasn’t anything they could do about the past. They’d have to concentrate on the here and now if they were ever going to accomplish anything. It was time to move on.

 

Major thanks to Ryan Griffin and Shaun Garin for help with this one. I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing Katsuharu, and I promise I will try and get him to get the stick out.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Fifteen: “The Demon in Me”

            It was a small coastal town along the way to find the next Beast Spirit, so Cherubimon’s Warriors thought it would be a good place to pick up supplies before continuing on. However, at almost the very moment they entered town, a Vikaralamon attacked. There was no reason for it—they hadn’t provoked him, hadn’t even been near him. Even so, they didn’t hesitate to evolve to defend themselves.

            “This is ridiculous!” Petaldramon declared, trying to slow the giant boar with a Leaf Cyclone. Both Katsuharu and Chiaki had been forced to use their Beast Spirits, but unfortunately, they were a lot slower than Vikaralamon. All five of them were needed for this—the two Beast Spirits for power and the three Human Spirits for speed. “What did we do?”

            “No idea,” Grumblemon answered, leaping out from behind Mercurymon to smack Vikaralamon with his hammer. “Why don’t we ask him once we’re done beating the pulp out of him? Or getting the pulp beaten out of us, whichever comes first.”

            “Not funny, you two,” Calmaramon replied, nearly retching from the amount of ink she’d had to spew. “It shouldn’t be this hard!”

            “He’s huge!” Grumblemon argued. “Of course he’s going to be hard!”

            “She has a point,” Mercurymon pointed out, reflecting a large, heavy energy sphere. “This guy’s a lot stronger than some of the others at this level—almost too strong.”

            None of them wanted to admit that they thought he was right. Vikaralamon seemed impervious to everything they threw at him. Their strongest attacks were useless. Even Duskmon was taking a thorough beating with nothing to show for it. His swords could hardly pierce the boar’s thick skin, only managing superficial damage after cutting through the hair. Frustrated at lack of progress, he aimed an attack at Vikaralamon’s eye. But the boar quickly turned in his direction and fired a sticky, dark fog at him. It came at him before anyone had the chance to warn him or intervene. Yet to everyone’s surprise, Duskmon absorbed the attack.

            Mercurymon stared in absolute shock. Unlike his own absorption ability, this wasn’t something Duskmon had to release. The energy entered his body and stayed there. Teruo wasn’t sure how he was supposed to feel about that.

            “Great timing,” Petaldramon commented. “Koichi, Teruo, try and absorb as much as you can while we keep hitting him. Then let him have it.”

            “Yeah,” Mercurymon agreed reluctantly.

            Vikaralamon caught onto their plan quickly, but it didn’t do him any good. Each time he tried to attack someone else, Mercurymon or Duskmon was there to absorb the attack. This left Calmaramon, Petaldramon, and Grumblemon free to continue pounding away with their strongest attacks. Eventually, the boar started to feel it.

            Mercurymon was starting to feel it too. Because of the fast pace he had to keep up in order to keep shielding everyone, he hadn’t had the chance to dump the power he’d absorbed, and it was building up. His breathing started to become heavy, and he knew he was sweating underneath the armor. He couldn’t take much more of this. With a glance toward his friends for approval, he unleashed a powerful blast of black fog and red energy spheres. At the same time, the others threw all they had into their final attacks. There was a massive explosion, and Vikaralamon’s Fractal Code finally became visible. Quickly, Grumblemon scanned it, expecting a digiegg to fly off into nowhere. No one expected the second explosion.

            There was darkness all around them, like the sticky fog Vikaralamon had attacked them with. They tried to fight against it, but soon they all felt it pressing down on them: apathy, greed, pride, anger, envy…

            …Hope.

            They opened their eyes suddenly, finding themselves lying devolved on the cobblestone road. For a minute, they felt shaky and confused. Then Teppei asked, “Is it over?”

            “Looks like it,” Chiaki answered.

            “Good,” Teppei replied, rolling over to his hands and knees so he could vomit. Nobody blamed him for doing so on his first kill.

            “Hey,” Katsuharu called when the retching stopped. “Don’t forget to render that Code.”

            “Yeah,” Teppei said shakily. He checked his D-tector before staring at it in confusion. “That’s weird. It says it already rendered.”

            “What?” Katsuharu asked, but Teppei moved over and held it up to him. The screen was blank, as it was when there was no Fractal Code left in the D-tector to be returned to the Digital World. “That is weird,” Katsuharu agreed.

            An arrow suddenly shot into the ground near them. Though they were tired and disoriented from the battle, they jumped to their feet as quickly as possible as a Nohemon appeared with another arrow ready to fly from his bow.

            “Leave, now,” he ordered.

            “We were just trying to help,” Katsuharu reasoned.

            “What do you think you are? Some kind of heroes?” Nohemon demanded. “Heroes don’t exist around here, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep it that way.”

            “Katsuharu, let’s find Bokomon and Neemon and get out of here,” Chiaki decided.

            “Yeah,” he agreed. “We’ll find another place to get supplies.”

            The arrow was trained on them the whole time as they located their two friends and left the town’s boundaries. They didn’t relax their guard until they were at least a mile away, so they could rest.

            “Does anyone have any idea what that was all about?” Katsuharu asked.

            “The book doesn’t say a thing about this town,” Bokomon confessed. “I suppose the original writers never made it here.”

            “And judging from the welcome committee, I’d say they were lucky,” Teppei decided.

            Koichi was about to add something when he thought he heard a voice from behind him. He immediately got to his feet and checked, signaling the others to keep silent. But nothing was there—not in the bushes or the trees or on the road.

            “What is it?” Katsuharu asked.

            “I thought I heard someone,” Koichi admitted. “But no one’s there.”

            The others made a second search but came up with the same results. Katsuharu simply answered, “Relax. That crazy Nohemon’s probably not going to follow us. I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi answered, but he hardly agreed. He knew he’d heard something, but he wasn’t sure who could have said anything. The others had been right by him, and they couldn’t find anyone in the forest spying on them. It could have been someone who was a better spy than they were detectives, but he was reasonably sure that their D-tectors would have picked it up if they couldn’t.

            “The first sign: Hearing voices that aren’t there,” whispered a voice in the back of his mind that he was mostly sure wasn’t his own. He felt a chill go down his spine. He was psychically deaf; he wasn’t supposed to go through this!

            I’m not going crazy, he told himself, willing it to be true. I’m not going crazy!

            “Hey, Koichi, think you can help me with this?” Katsuharu asked from a high branch of a fruit tree.

            “Yeah, I’ll be there in a second,” Koichi replied.

            He was so preoccupied with trying to convince himself of his sanity that he stepped on Teruo’s attempt to start a fire. Teruo drew his stomped fingers back in pain, and before Koichi could even try to apologize, he left to get more tinder. Koichi watched on in confusion and concern, unsure of what he’d done to deserve that kind of response. But Katsuharu started calling again, and he was forced to lose both trains of thought.

            ~~~

            Sleep didn’t come to anyone easily that night, although oddly enough, none of them was awake enough to keep watch. Everything seemed to bother them that night—it was too hot, it was too cold, it was too loud, it was too quiet… By the time they finally fell asleep, they were fully exhausted from just trying to sleep. And that was when the nightmares came.

            Chiaki found herself alone in a blank, indigo field. She couldn’t tell where the sky ended and the ground began—if there truly were sky and ground. She took a few steps forward and started to feel tired. Another few steps sapped her strength even more, bringing her to her knees. She was about to try and pull herself back up when she felt like something was telling her to sleep deeply. Her vision started to blur, but she saw a cute Digimon sleeping peacefully nearby. It started to stir, and she felt her body going still. Then, slowly, it began to open its eyes and hers closed just as the Digimon shifted to a rage-filled form.

            Katsuharu’s field was purple, and nowhere near featureless. All around him were symbols of status and power. He almost paused to examine them but then shrugged and started walking. Eventually, the visuals faded to be replaced by emotions. He started to remember the way things were back home, as he was the youngest of four. Even as the leader of his friends, he couldn’t manage to get what he wanted. Hadn’t he been forced to beg for his Beast Spirit just a week ago? A bearded Digimon came over to him and held out a scepter. With a tentative grin, he took it. It started to glow, and suddenly, it pulled him into its crystal orb.

            Teppei was forced to watch orange-tinted memories of his most humbling experiences. While he’d been able to laugh them off afterwards, now he was somehow feeling the sting of humiliation he’d always originally faced. When his better moments appeared in front of him, he found himself trying to suppress the memories of humility. A Digimon that looked like half-angel, half-demon came over to him, and he knew the trouble the minute he saw it. Immediately, he ran at him to fight, but a prison of digital glyphs formed around him and kept him from doing anything else.

            Teruo’s was the easiest of all. When he arrived in the blue field, his thoughts were already focused on the events of the day and other things he thought he’d gotten over but obviously hadn’t. He didn’t even notice when a serpentine Digimon rose from below him and snapped its jaws around him.

            There was yellow in Koichi’s field of vision. Flashes of his memories appeared in amber, like disintegrating old photographs. He tried to fight the tears coming to his eyes as his anger surged. He could feel a clawed hand on his shoulder, tightening its grip. The pain it caused was only increasing his anger, and he was about to shout at whomever it was to let go when suddenly, red energy beams went right past his back. He momentarily forgot his anger as Duskmon appeared and started fighting a winged, hooded figure.

            “W-what?” Koichi asked.

            It was bizarre watching the battle instead of fighting it. Duskmon savagely yet elegantly attacked the cloaked Digimon from the front, forcing him to be on the defensive. He seemed almost desperate about his attacks. The other Digimon, however, was not without skill either. He was incredibly strong, and often turned the tables. It was only because of Duskmon’s speed and finesse that he was able to force the battle back to his advantage. Koichi watched with an odd feeling of helplessness. He wanted to do something, but whose side was he supposed to be on?

            “Get out of our mind,” Duskmon ordered the hooded Digimon. “You have no place here.”

            Hearing this made Koichi burn with anger. “Our mind? This is my mind—you invaded it!”

            A sickening red aura formed around him, forming tendrils. The hooded Digimon managed to take hold of one of the tendrils and pulled on it. Koichi felt himself being pulled forward against his will.

            “Control your anger!” Duskmon shouted. “That’s how he’s taking control of you.”

            Even though he was struggling to stand in place, Koichi recognized how completely odd this had become. Duskmon was lecturing him on controlling his temper. He had to be dreaming.

            Duskmon managed to cut the aura-tendril that connected Koichi to the other Digimon. Immediately, Koichi fell backwards, hearing Duskmon yell, “Wake up, now!”

            Someone else screamed it at exactly the same time, and he opened his eyes. The urgency he’d heard from both wake-up cries made him move to the side just in time to avoid an arrow that landed right where he’d been lying. Terrified by the nightmare and attempted assassination, he got to his feet and looked to where the arrow had come from. Nohemon had another in his bow, this time trained on his heart.

            “I missed the others, but I got lucky enough to find you before you left,” he said. “So which one are you? Sloth, for the laziness?”

            “What?” Koichi asked again. “What are you talking about?”

            “If there’s enough of you still left in there, kid, show me your demon mark,” Nohemon ordered.

            “Demon mark?” Koichi repeated.

            Nohemon made a thrusting movement with his bow that made Koichi flinch, thinking he was firing the arrow. He hadn’t; he’d just been trying to threaten him. “Don’t play games with me, kid. I’m not in the mood. Show me the demon mark.” Though he wasn’t sure exactly what the “demon mark” was, Koichi quickly kicked off his shoes and socks and pulled off his shirts to show his unmarked skin. Nohemon gave him a cynical look, and Koichi turned bright red.

            “You won’t find anything on him,” informed a new voice less than a minute later. Hearing it, Nohemon took a step back and half-turned so he could keep an eye on both Koichi and the Gargoylemon that stepped out of the shadows. “The demon never broke through his mind. He must be psychically shielded.”

            Koichi gave the newcomer a confused look while Nohemon asked, “And you are?”

            “Just an old sinner trying to repay his debt to society,” Gargoylemon answered. “I have something to show you that may help both of you, if you trust me enough to follow.”

            “What happened to my friends?” Koichi asked. “Where are they?”

            Gargoylemon lowered his head in sympathy. “I have a lot I need to tell you.” He turned. “Come, and I’ll show you.”

            Nohemon regarded him for a minute before slinging his bow over his shoulder. He started to head off but stopped when he noticed Koichi wasn’t following. “Well?”

            Koichi had turned red again. “Can I have my pants back?”

            Nohemon looked at the briefs and khakis he’d taken from Koichi and tossed them back. There was a mumbled, “Thanks,” before Koichi very quickly re-dressed himself.

            They followed a path that led under the village, and along the way, Nohemon explained the situation for the benefit of Koichi, Bokomon, and Neemon. Koichi focused on the story as much as he could, but he was starting to hear Duskmon’s voice again. Compounded with his worry over the others, it was turning him into a complete wreck.

            “A long time ago, before Lucemon even came into power, this village was under the control of the Seven Great Demon Lords,” Nohemon explained. “It lasted for a long while, until seven Digimon from the village banded together to take them down.”

            “This story sounds awfully familiar,” Bokomon noticed.

            Nohemon snorted. “Yep. There are a lot of similarities with the Legendary Warriors, but these were different guys. For one, these guys survived their fight, and unlike anyone else from the village, they left and never returned.”

            “Why didn’t they come back?” Neemon asked in honest curiosity.

            “That’s something we wish we could do,” Nohemon replied. “There’s some kind of curse on the village, what with the demons back and all. No matter what happens, we’re all drawn back here.”

            Koichi paused for a minute, closing his eyes to resist a pounding headache that seemed to get worse the closer they got to the village. “If they were destroyed, how did they come back? Were they reborn? And what does that have to do with my friends?”

            “To tell you the truth, I really don’t know,” Nohemon confessed. “But the Demon Lords left behind enough of an echo to give us trouble—their sins of Pride, Envy, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, and Wrath. I told you there weren’t any heroes in this village. That’s because every time someone tried to fight against someone possessed by one of these sins, the sin would just pass itself along, infecting their Fractal Code. Those who are infected are marked with one of the demon marks. The same thing probably happened when you fought Gluttony—that Vikaralamon.” Koichi was silent, rubbing his temples as he tried to concentrate. Nohemon took the silence for grief. “It never fails, kid. Heroes rise and fall. Guardians become corrupted by their own power.” He turned around to face Koichi, who managed to look at him. “So tell me, who guards the guardians?” He was surprised at the look of sheer determination he got in response.

            “I will,” he promised, stepping past Nohemon to try and catch up to Gargoylemon.

            He stopped short at the sight of a giant skeletal door in the back of a large atrium. All along the atrium’s walls were mosaics apparently detailing the defeat of the Demon Lords by the seven heroes. Most of the tiles had fallen off and broken ages ago, and there were scorch marks all over, but everyone could still make out the images.

            “The Seven Demon Lords and their destroyers,” Gargoylemon pointed out. “The Demon Lords weren’t much of a team, but they followed some command. For Lust, there was Lillithmon, Gluttony Beelzemon, Envy Leviamon, Greed Barbamon, Sloth Belphemon, and Wrath Daemon. Their leader was Pride—Lucemon.” At the terrified looks Bokomon and Neemon gave him, he clarified, “Not the same one.”

            “Just a bunch of ordinary Digimon stopped them,” Nohemon observed, pointing out the heroes. “WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon look like their strongest.”

            “These symbols look like they’re important,” Bokomon noticed, looking at seven tiles. “They’re in an older dialect, but I think I can translate: Courage, Friendship, Love, Knowledge, Purity, Hope, and…” He frowned. “I can’t quite tell if this one is supposed to be Sincerity or Faith.”

            “I’ve been calling it Sincere Faith for simplicity’s sake,” Gargoylemon replied. “Each one of those virtues went against the sins. When Gluttony was destroyed, I stayed nearby to try and extract the Code into the Hope tile.”

            “Did it work?” Nohemon asked.

            “I think so,” Koichi answered, remembering the sudden surge in hope he’d felt just before waking from the darkness. “Teppei said there wasn’t anything in his D-tector.”

            “I couldn’t keep the rest of the sins from coming at you, though,” Gargoylemon lamented. “There are five more we still have to worry about.”

            Nohemon raised a brow. “Don’t you mean six?”

            “No,” Gargoylemon corrected. “Lust was defeated long ago, when the sins first came back out of the Gate of the Deadly Sins. It was at the cost of someone very dear to me. It was only with the help of the Love tile that I could neutralize it.”

            “When the sins first came?” Nohemon repeated, but Koichi cut him off.

            “Gargoylemon, which Demon Lord is this?” he asked, pointing to a hooded Digimon with demonic purple wings.

            “Daemon,” he explained. “The Lord of Wrath.”

            Now it makes sense, Koichi realized. He looked over to the Gate. Five symbols were shining on it in indigo, purple, orange, blue, and yellow. He guessed these were the demon marks, the symbols of their sins. He walked toward the Gate to examine the mark of Wrath, hearing Duskmon’s voice grow louder the closer he got. The battle from his nightmare raged within his skull, and he brought his hands to the sides of his head in agony as he kept moving forward. As he kept approaching, he started to see the battle even more clearly. Finally, he fell at the foot of the Gate and blacked out. He couldn’t hear anyone else other than Duskmon and Daemon fighting.

            Of course, within his mind, he had no idea he’d lost consciousness. He just realized that the pain had stopped and his surroundings were gray instead of yellow. This was better; as long as he didn’t see the taint of the sin, he didn’t think Wrath had gotten too deeply into him.

            “I can’t just stand here, though,” he murmured. “Duskmon might be keeping Daemon out, but he’s not doing me any good otherwise.” There was just one problem—he couldn’t fight. He had nothing to fight with.

            He suddenly felt something being placed in his hand. He opened his palm in surprise to see a blue tile with a rune Bokomon had translated as “Friendship.” The tile reminded him of what he had to do. His friends were in even more trouble than he was. He had to win against Daemon first if he was going to stop the rest of the sins. He clutched the tile tightly in his fist as he ran forward, hardly noticing the tile’s glow or the dark gray armor forming on him.

            The cloak had fallen off of Daemon during the course of the fight, revealing his monstrous true form. Duskmon cut through his fire attacks and continued to push him back. When Koichi fell into step alongside him, the job became far easier. Koichi kept a staff against Daemon’s hands, preventing him from forming fireballs. He still wasn’t sure how he’d gotten stronger or where this new form had come from, but he supposed his determination to help his friends had let him draw on some of the Spirit’s more latent powers. Finally, at some point, Duskmon stopped helping him push Daemon back. Koichi tightened his grip on his staff as he continued on alone.

            “I’ve got enough demons,” he said, straining with the effort of the fight. “I don’t need any more.”

            Darkness formed around them, shot through with streaks of the same blue of the Friendship tile. Daemon shouted in agony as his body was torn to shreds by the dual powers. The armor vanished from Koichi’s body, and the power dissipated. He sagged from exhaustion and collapsed, faintly hearing voices calling his name.

            He opened his eyes and saw the four Digimon looking over him in concern. They had carried him away from the Gate and put him on the opposite end of the atrium, apparently in the hopes that he’d wake up. He felt weak and barely had the strength to sit. He couldn’t sit up on his own, and he was forced to lean against the wall.

            “I don’t know what you did, kid,” Nohemon commented, “but Wrath’s mark stopped glowing on that Gate.”

            Koichi opened his hand to reveal the Friendship tile, but he couldn’t hand it over. Gargoylemon reached down to pick it up.

            “Good, you sealed him,” he noticed. “I figured you’d be able to, with your concern for your friends.”

            “Okay, pal, the kid’s attack may have distracted us, but I think you owe us a little more explanation,” Nohemon decided. “How do you know so much about the Demon Lords, and how were you around when they first returned? That was generations ago; you’re the same level as me.”

            “I told you I’m a sinner, but I’m also a fool,” Gargoylemon explained. “I was the one who opened the Gate. I’d hoped I could gain the power sealed behind it, but all I did was release the sins.”

            The others stared at him in horror, and Nohemon muttered, “You sick bastard,” before training an arrow on him. Koichi was shocked to realize that even if he could get up to stop him, he wouldn’t. He wanted revenge as badly as Nohemon did. Duskmon started to whisper something in his mind, but he moaned to drown it out.

            “Do you realize what you did?” Nohemon demanded. “How many generations have been damned because of you?”

            “I know exactly what I did,” Gargoylemon replied. “And I suffer everyday for it. I hoped to seal the sins on my own, using the virtues. But I can’t. On my own, I only managed one.”

            Nohemon glared. “You plan to use the kid, is that it?”

            “I’m not using him,” Gargoylemon argued. “His friends were possessed, and seeing how he managed to fight off Wrath almost the moment I gave him the Friendship tile, I know he’ll stop at nothing to save them.”

            “Can you stop talking about me like I’m not here?” Koichi groaned. They both looked in his direction. “I’ll do it. I can’t leave them like this.”

            “I don’t like this,” Nohemon decided, putting the arrow back in his quiver. “But I’m not letting you do this alone.”

            “There’s still one thing I’m confused about,” Bokomon interrupted. “How was Koichi not affected by Wrath? And why did he lose consciousness in front of the Gate?”

            Koichi flinched at this, but finally answered, “It was Duskmon. He helped me hold off Daemon. I guess the Spirit keeps unwanted guests out of my head.” At the confused looks he got, he added, “Normally, I don’t hear the Spirit. Cherubimon said I was psychically deaf and that’s what’s saved my sanity all this time—something about him being a shadow in my unconscious and as long as he stays there, he can’t hurt me. The others who first tried to use my Spirit did hear him, and it drove them crazy after the Spirit rejected them. But ever since we got here, I suddenly started hearing him. I thought I was going crazy.”

            “It’s probably the Gate,” Gargoylemon surmised. “It leads to another world, one of darkness.”

            “Of course!” Bokomon realized. “The Spirit is responding to it, then.”

            “Is there any way to stop it?” Nohemon asked. “No offense, kid, but if that Spirit can hurt you if it leaves your unconscious, then it can probably hurt the rest of us too.” Koichi lowered his head at this.

            “The only way to stop it is to seal the Gate,” Gargoylemon said. “But we can’t seal it until we have all seven sins locked inside. If we tried to seal it now, we’d lock out the last four, and trying to open it after we caught them would only release the other three.”

            “I can handle it,” Koichi insisted. “I can ignore him. But right now, I think getting away from the Gate might help.”

            Gargoylemon lifted him over a shoulder and carried him out of the atrium while Nohemon, Bokomon, and Neemon followed. Nohemon looked at Koichi and warned, “You might as well try to get some sleep. We’re going to have a long night.”

            ~~~

            The only reason Koichi slept through his nightmares was because he was too exhausted to wake up. But by the time morning came (at least, he thought it was morning; there were too many dark clouds for him to tell the difference), he felt rested enough to fight again.

            “You nearly lost to one Demon Lord, and you think you can win against four?” Duskmon taunted. “You won’t stand a chance.”

            “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Koichi whispered, trying to suppress the dark feelings he was beginning to associate with Duskmon.

            “Hey,” Nohemon called, munching on a piece of fruit. He tossed Koichi another fruit. “It’s not much, but there’s not much to go around.”

            “What happened?” Koichi asked. “Was it Gluttony?”

            “No, but he didn’t exactly help things,” Nohemon answered. “We had a famine here a couple of years back. We’re only just getting back on our feet.” He looked over at Koichi, who looked too guilty to eat. “Don’t worry about it. We both need our strength if we’re going to stop these sins.”

            “Isn’t Gargoylemon going to help?” Koichi asked.

            “I argued with him about it last night,” Nohemon replied, shaking his head. “As if it wasn’t bad enough that he let them escape, he’s too much of a coward to do anything about them. He also wanted me to give you these.” He handed over the remaining tiles. “He says Purity fights Envy, Sincere Faith against Sloth, Courage against Pride, and Knowledge against Greed. I hope you know which one’s which, since your two friends are taking cover with Gargoylemon in the atrium.”

            “I think so,” Koichi answered. “Maybe not all of the shapes, but the colors.” He turned over one of the tiles in his hand—orange, with a sun-shaped rune that meant Courage.

            The clouds suddenly burst open, drenching them with rain. As Nohemon started to complain about their rotten luck, Koichi shoved down the rest of his breakfast and started running.

            “Hold up, what’s going on?” Nohemon asked.

            “Chiaki’s the Warrior of Water,” Koichi explained. “This rain is probably hers.”

            “We’d better head to the beach, then,” Nohemon advised. “Watch out, though. The path is steep.” But Koichi was barely listening to his warning, skidding down the slope to the shore.

            The sand was almost smooth, constantly eroded by the waves. Koichi’s footprints were the only ones there. Still, desperate to find his friend, he stood out there, screaming out her name. By the time Nohemon caught up to him, he’d given up in despair.

            “I guess the rain was just rain,” he admitted.

            “Why are you here?” asked a flat voice from behind them. They turned around to see Chiaki standing in a neutral fashion, her face expressionless.

            “Chiaki?” Koichi asked. Nohemon started to grab his bow, but Koichi stepped forward to stop him.

            “You won’t let him shoot,” Chiaki observed. “Why do you care?”

            Koichi blinked, taken aback. “You’re my friend. Of course I care.”

            “It takes so much to care,” Chiaki protested. “You listen to everyone’s problems and try to be there for them, and at the end of the day, you’re exhausted. It’s not worth it.”

            “Kid, this is Sloth you’re dealing with,” Nohemon warned. “You’d better evolve.”

            Koichi ignored him. “Chiaki, when we first met, you said you were trying to make up for not helping people who needed you.”

            “I made a mistake,” Chiaki said simply. “And it’s one I’m going to correct.”

            In a surprisingly quick movement for someone possessed by the sin of Sloth, Chiaki pulled out her D-tector and evolved to Ranamon’s form. The demon mark was clearly visible just above her left breast—not that Koichi was looking. Really.

            “You’re pathetic,” Duskmon muttered from his mind.

            Shut up, Koichi retorted. He reached for the Sincere Faith tile, but a wave hit his hand and knocked the tile into the water. Without thinking, he ran for it.

            “Kid, you’re running headfirst into her trap!” Nohemon shouted, firing an arrow at Ranamon. Another wave came in front of her as a shield before whipping over to him.

            Koichi had just grabbed the tile when Ranamon turned her attention to him. A large wave crashed down on him, pulling him out to sea as it receded. He tried to pull himself above water, but it was difficult. The water was choppy and it took all he had to keep treading. But to Ranamon, it might as well have been as smooth as glass. She walked atop it with that eerie, false, detached calm and stood over him.

            “Chiaki, you can fight this,” he pleaded. “I know you—you wouldn’t be trying to help people if you didn’t care. You even forgave me when I attacked you that time.”

            “You’re the only one left who still wants me to solve their problems,” she said. “All I want is to be left alone.”

            She then knelt down and held him under the water. Koichi thrashed trying to get out from under her tight grip, all the while willing the tile to glow as the Friendship tile had. He tried to focus on thoughts of Chiaki’s sincerity or the faith he had in her and she had in others, but he couldn’t think clearly. Soon, he was completely unable to fight. He could hear Duskmon in the back of his mind, yelling at him to stay awake, but he couldn’t. He needed air, but the only thing around to breathe was water.

            Ranamon suddenly let go, and Koichi felt someone pulling him out of the water. He choked the minute he came up, spitting out the water that had nearly made its way to his lungs and vomiting what he’d swallowed. When he was on land and done choking, he looked at his rescuer in surprise.

            “Gargoylemon?” he asked.

            “You recover well for someone who nearly drowned,” he noticed, helping him to his feet. Then, seeing that Koichi was still clutching the tile, he added, “And you have an amazing grip.”

            There was a sudden scream, and Koichi’s attention was drawn back to the fight. Ranamon was clutching the demon mark while Nohemon fired arrows at her. Despite the fact that he’d been held underwater for an indeterminate amount of time, Koichi ran over to try and stop him.

            “Stop! You’ll kill her!” he cried.

            “Relax, these are blunt arrowheads,” Nohemon assured. “She’ll be bruised, but at least I bruised her demon mark. If I hit it hard enough, I should be able to paralyze her.”

            A large dome of Fractal Code formed around Ranamon, and Koichi confessed, “I hope you can hit her hard enough.”

            As Calmaramon emerged, Nohemon asked, “What is that?

            “Her Beast Spirit,” Koichi replied.

            They narrowly dodged a spray of Acid Ink, and Nohemon shuddered. “Could she get any more disgusting?”

            “I need to get close to her to try and activate the tile,” Koichi said.

            “You can try from behind, but I don’t know if I can cover you,” Nohemon confessed.

            “I can help,” Gargoylemon volunteered. He held his hands out, summoning white light. “White Statue!”

            A statue of a white demon formed in front of them, then zoomed forward and attacked. Nohemon followed the attack with several arrows while Koichi ran toward Calmaramon’s back.

            “The help’s appreciated,” Nohemon commented, “but don’t you think we have enough demons around?”

            In all actuality, fighting Calmaramon was the easy part. Gargoylemon’s statue and Nohemon’s arrows weren’t always effective, but they hit their mark most of the time, at least. Trying to get close enough to use the tile was the tricky part. Koichi had to avoid getting hit by stray arrows and acid, first of all. Second, to fight back against the statue, Calmaramon had started spinning in her Titanic Tempest. It constantly kept her out of range. Koichi gritted his teeth in frustration.

            “If you’re so desperate to catch up, there is always the Beast Spirit,” Duskmon reminded him.

            “Don’t even think about it,” Koichi bit back. He took a breath to calm himself and forced all other thoughts out of his mind for the moment. He knew he was standing right in the line of fire, but he couldn’t do anything about it right now. He needed to focus on Sincere Faith, and that took his memories. He concentrated especially hard on that one night on the beach, when she’d shown complete trust in him and helped him to try and maintain some sense of self each time he evolved. When he looked down at the tile, it gave off a soft, white glow.

            The activated virtue seemed to rob Calmaramon of Sloth’s power. Her fighting slowed to a stop, and she ultimately devolved. Chiaki was doubled over, clutching her head and screaming as Koichi came closer with the glowing tile. The shadow of an enraged demon formed around her, almost making Koichi pause. Finally, he carefully reached through the shadow and placed a hand on Chiaki’s shoulder to steady her as the tile started shining brightly, dispelling the shadow. Chiaki’s screams faded to a hoarse moan, and she slumped over, unconscious. Koichi caught her before she could fall and gently placed her down.

            “Not a bad job against Sloth,” Gargoylemon complimented, “but you’d better make sure it’s gone.”

            “How?” he asked.

            Nohemon smirked. “The demon mark isn’t just on an evolution, or don’t you remember me asking you about it last night?” For a third time, Koichi blushed deeply. Fortunately for him, it was a very quick check and Chiaki remained unconscious.

            “He’s lucky it wasn’t Lust,” Gargoylemon decided. “He probably would have activated the virtue easily enough, but he would definitely have needed a cold shower.”

            “I think he’s probably glad right now that he’s already wet and cold,” Nohemon agreed.

            “So what now?” Koichi asked once he’d gotten his hormones back under control.

            “First, we’d better take her down to the atrium to rest,” Gargoylemon said. “The mental stress took a lot out of her.”

            Koichi looked at her with regret. “Is there any way I can help them without it having to be as bad as this?”

            “Face it, kid, you’re going to have to fight,” Nohemon said. “I know you don’t want to hurt your friends, but these sins won’t give you a choice. They take all that you know out of them and leave you fighting a sin-filled shell with warped memories. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen to some of my own friends.” Koichi nodded reluctantly. “But right now, we’ll take a breather and seal that sin back behind the Gate.”

            Koichi looked down at the tile as Gargoylemon took Chiaki. There was no longer any sign that it was anything other than an engraved piece of gray stone. The virtue was now keeping the weakened sin in check until it could be sealed. And there were three more left that he had to take care of. Slowly, he stood up and followed Nohemon and Gargoylemon back to the atrium. There was still a lot more he had to do.

 

Major inspiration for this chapter comes from Full Metal Alchemist, although there is a lot of the W.I.T.C.H. episode “S is for Self” in this in regards to Koichi and Duskmon. Even more for them comes from Jungian psychology. Nohemon is very strongly based off of Green Arrow from Justice League Unlimited, and Gargoylemon gets his inspiration from Hohenheim of the Full Metal Alchemist anime. There’s also a small paragraph in here that’s actually based on the Batman Beyond opening sequence—fans might be able to guess which one.

As a translation note, I used the Japanese names for the “virtues” rather than the Crests’ English dub names simply for the sake of characterization—to me, Chiaki’s faith in people is more important in this context than her reliability. I also went with the term “Sincere Faith” from the Diaries Universe name of the Crest, as it takes care of both common translations of the Japanese “seijitsu.” The seven virtues and seven sins will not be referred to as Crests and Anti-Crests, as they are in Digimon canon, to distinguish them from what would be in the Digimon Adventure universe. The Crests do apparently exist in some form in the other worlds, as Digimon in the Tamers, Frontier, and Savers universes have Digimon with the Crest symbols on them.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Sixteen: “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?”

            Koichi would have preferred to stay as far away from the Gate as humanly possible, but he figured he owed it to himself and everyone else to see the sin sealed. He stayed at the back of the atrium, however. Since the room was round, he had a good view no matter where he stood. Chiaki, still unconscious, was leaning against the wall next to him. She was breathing fine, and it didn’t look like she’d been hurt badly. He still wasn’t sure how Sloth had affected her mentally, so he wanted to remain nearby when she woke up.

            For a minute, his vision became hazy, and he thought he saw the gray surroundings he was beginning to think of as his mind. Duskmon stood right in front of him, looking in the direction of Chiaki—or where she was in reality, at least.

            “She had a point,” he admitted. “Why do you care? Everyone important to you has already left or let you down.”

            It stung more than Koichi wanted to admit, and he couldn’t keep the hurt and near-defeat out of his voice as he replied, “Shut up.”

            He forced himself to concentrate on reality, even though he heard Duskmon’s laughter quite clearly. For a moment, he wondered if he could simply seal the Spirit behind the Gate and end his problems right there.

            “Don’t even try,” Duskmon warned. “You need me more than you know.”

            Koichi didn’t have any idea what he meant, but he answered, “I need you to stop giving me a headache right now.” He cleared mind of all thoughts, and the throbbing in his temples eased.

            Gargoylemon placed the tile next to the others on the mosaic. There was an intense shine from the entire mosaic as the tile’s Fractal Code merged with the mosaic’s Code. When the shine faded, there was a darkening over the image of Belphemon, Lord of Sloth, corresponding to the dimness of the demon mark on the Gate.

            “Pretty impressive light show,” Nohemon commented. Koichi nodded. “You know, you’re going to have to leave her behind when we fight the other sins. It’s a little cumbersome carrying around an unconscious person in the middle of a fight.”

            “I know,” he answered. “I just want to make sure she’s all right. I can’t exactly come back to the atrium every time. I’m having a hard time keeping the voice in my head silent.”

            Nohemon frowned. “Well, if you’re willing to sacrifice safety for peace of mind, there’s an inn we can go to. The landlady’s a friend of mine, and I think I can persuade her.”

            “Thanks,” Koichi replied.

            “She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

            There was a small nod. “She forgave me when I couldn’t forgive myself, and she reminded me that I’m the master of my Spirit, not the other way around.”

            Without answering, Nohemon carefully picked up Chiaki and looked over at Bokomon and Neemon. “You two coming? We’re finding a better place to keep her.” The invitation was not extended to Gargoylemon; just because they’d fought together, it didn’t mean they were friends. Koichi still wasn’t sure where he stood.

            “I’ll watch the Gate,” Gargoylemon volunteered, preventing Koichi from thinking about extending the offer. “It’s not likely that they’ll come here, but every little bit helps.” It was a weak argument, and everyone knew it.

            “Yeah,” Koichi replied hesitantly before following everyone else out.

            ~~~

            The landlady, Lilymon, wasn’t exactly happy about the arrangement. Even when Nohemon assured her that Chiaki was demon-free and that Koichi was practically immune, she was still reluctant. In the end, Nohemon’s persuasion involved a locked room on the other side of the hall and instructions for the others to leave them alone for the next hour or so. Koichi was more than happy to oblige.

            He sighed as he sat next to her bed. He hated feeling helpless like this. He could fight against the sins and activate the virtues with relatively little problem, but there was nothing he could do to speed up the healing time.

            Guess I’d better try and sleep again, he decided. Bokomon and Neemon were uncharacteristically quiet, keeping an eye on Chiaki. He knew they’d wake him if things changed.

            “You should be fighting the others instead of hiding here,” Duskmon criticized.

            Better idea, Koichi thought sarcastically. How about you keep quiet and let me sleep so I don’t get killed next time?

            There was silence, and Koichi took advantage of it to fall asleep. It was a light nap but riddled with nightmares. He supposed that was an effect of the open Gate and the corrupted Spirit feeling the call of the world of darkness beyond. Still, it was a better sleep than he would have gotten if he wasn’t psychically deaf, and he woke up an hour or so later feeling much more refreshed.

            He got up and went over to the wash basin. The village had no indoor plumbing and depended on the central well for all water, so there was a pitcher next to the basin. Koichi had a feeling that if he was sensitive to these kinds of things, he would be hesitant about using water that was undoubtedly contaminated by whatever darkness was leaking out of the Gate. But he wasn’t, so he poured a small amount into the basin and splashed it on his face. He then filled a glass and drank from it slowly. It had a bit of a saline taste, but it was a vast improvement over the seawater he’d nearly drowned in earlier.

            The foggy mirror faced the window, so Koichi had a few seconds warning before Grumblemon attacked. He quickly ran over and evolved just as the wall was smashed open with explosive force. The Fractal Code dome of the evolution acted as a barrier against the debris, shielding both its occupant and anyone behind him. As always, there was a rapid shift in personas—only this time, it was faster than ever, with both existing simultaneously in the conscious mind. Koichi felt like he was standing a little ways behind Duskmon, detached from their shared body. This gave him a bit of an advantage to concentrate on searching for possible exits or openings. He hated admitting it, but that was another good thing about this current arrangement.

            Perhaps you should be the shadow in our unconscious, Duskmon thought. It carried very clearly in Koichi’s mind, as if he’d thought it himself, but the mental voice sounded different from his own.

            “Forget it,” he argued.

            “What a surprise,” Grumblemon mocked. “Here I am, thinking you’re asleep on the job so I can take care of Chiaki, and what do I see? You’re all set to fight. Fine by me—you never humiliated me the way she did, but you still did enough. It won’t be as sweet taking you down as it will be with Chiaki, but at least I’ll have you out of the way.”

            “Pride,” Duskmon recognized. “I didn’t realize that sin involved insanity. You don’t stand a chance against me.” Though the arrogance annoyed him, Koichi had to admit he was right. Duskmon was at least twice as strong as Grumblemon.

            If you want to seal the sin, you’d better start concentrating on the virtue, Duskmon warned.

            “As much as I appreciate your help, do I have to remind you that you’re a guest in my head?” Koichi asked. Even so, he focused on memories of Teppei’s courage, trying to bring light to the orange tile. This was more difficult than he’d expected—quite often, Teppei’s eagerness to stand up to someone was fueled by pride just as much as by courage. He decided to focus heavily on Teppei’s insistence on fighting Petaldramon, even though he thought it was a little more Friendship than Courage.

            “But he still had the courage to try and knock some sense into a friend out of control,” he reminded himself, and the tile softly glowed orange.

            Meanwhile, the battle wasn’t going as well as Duskmon cared to admit. Grumblemon was a lot stronger than he usually was, leaving large cracks in the ground from his hammer. He could defend himself a lot better than usual too. His stone-hard skin nearly broke Duskmon’s swords, forcing him to rely on Deadly Gaze. Unfortunately, he constantly risked missing since Grumblemon was able to jump out of the way. On one such jump, he managed to land with his back facing Duskmon, giving him a good view of the demon mark on the back of his neck.

            “Conventional fighting won’t work against him—he hardly ever uses it anyway,” Koichi warned. “The only way to win this is to play his game.”

            Grumblemon swung his hammer, but Duskmon leapt into the air to avoid it. “Running away?” he mocked.

            “You shouldn’t talk,” Duskmon replied calmly. “Not when you can’t even defend yourself against snowballs.”

            Grumblemon glared at the jab against his fights with Kumamon. “At least I lasted longer than you did against Seraphimon—you were knocked out in the first minute.”

            “You never even fought him. You focused on Ophanimon’s Warriors. In the end, Seraphimon could only be defeated by his own power. Your last major battle was worse. Even when you were determined to save your friend, you failed. You lost quickly to Petaldramon.”

            Koichi could feel himself glaring. “That was low.”

            Grumblemon apparently agreed, as he lunged for Duskmon. Duskmon threw his momentum against him, catching him with his swords and flipping him over. Grumblemon landed with a crash. The fact that Duskmon laughed at his defeat didn’t help his short temper.

            “Shut up!” he yelled, swinging his hammer. Duskmon quickly took a step back, throwing off Grumblemon’s balance. Both he and the hammer went careening into a wall.

            “I suppose what they say is right,” Duskmon remarked. “Pride does go before a fall.”

            Koichi rolled his eyes. “You’re one to talk.”

            Grumblemon got up again, but this time, there was the shadow of the Lord of Pride, Lucemon, over him. The next time he attacked, Duskmon barely dodged in time, and the ground split open for a good meter or two.

            Seal it now! Duskmon ordered.

            “What do you think I’m trying to do?” Koichi responded, trying to hold Pride off with the Courage tile. But the shadow was too strong for the orange light, constantly engulfing it. “He’s too strong—Pride’s at least doubled his strength, maybe tripled it.”

            Arrows suddenly rained down from above, and Nohemon jumped out of a second-story window. He turned to Duskmon with a smirk and asked, “You started the party without me?”

            There was no time for witty banter. Grumblemon had recovered from these sharper arrows and swung at Nohemon. Being light, he jumped away from it fairly easily, but the crow atop his head cawed in indignation.

            “Stubborn little bastard,” he noticed, firing several arrows. “Where’s the demon mark?”

            “The back of his neck,” Duskmon answered, running for close combat.

            His swords met the long handle of Grumblemon’s hammer, and the battle became a test of strength. They stood almost still, pushing with all their might to throw the other back or break his weapon. At the same time, Koichi was still trying to get enough power out of the virtue of Courage to beat back the sin. But the demon pushed him harder, and he was shocked to realize that Duskmon was also losing his footing.

            “Who doesn’t stand a chance now?” Grumblemon asked, straining.

            “Let’s find out,” Nohemon said from behind him, letting an arrow fly. It hit the demon mark like a bull’s-eye.

            Grumblemon yelled in pain as he froze in place. The shadow was also paralyzed, giving Koichi the chance to attack it head-on with the virtue. Orange light burned at the sin like fire, ripping it apart. When he was finally free of it, the unconscious Teppei fell backwards into Nohemon’s arms while Duskmon devolved.

            “Not bad,” Nohemon congratulated. “But next time, kid, when I say don’t bother me for a couple of hours, it doesn’t include emergencies.” Koichi just gave a tired smile at that. “Come on, let’s get him in the new room upstairs quickly so I can get the groveling over with. Next battle—try and keep it away from the inn?”

            “I’ll try,” Koichi promised.

            ~~~

            The new room was bigger than the last and had no windows to the outside for them to worry about. It made escape a little harder, but it at least also made an attack harder. After apologizing and groveling to Lilymon, they managed to get a binding agreement under threat of death that the room—and the rest of the inn—would not be destroyed. Once that was settled, they put Teppei on another bed and pulled over a table and two chairs. Koichi laid out the tiles on the table: orange for Courage, green for Purity, and purple for Knowledge.

            “Two left, eh?” Nohemon asked.

            Koichi nodded. “Envy and Greed. I don’t know how I’m going to take care of that. I had a hard enough time against Pride.”

            “You’ll figure something out,” Nohemon affirmed. “So let’s see, best-case scenario? Other than them being perfectly fine, of course.”

            He frowned. “Probably either sin for Teruo. Activating the tiles would be easy. He’s one of the team strategists, which would work for Knowledge.”

            “And Purity?”

            “I’m guessing that’s in reference to a pure heart, and that describes him pretty well. He’s—well, innocent’s probably the only way to describe it. He never believed that our enemies were as corrupted as we were afraid they were, and he’s confident that we’ll be able to save them. He even does this because he wants to be a hero instead of having to look up to heroes that have fallen.”

            “Sounds kind of naïve to me,” Nohemon judged.

            “In a way, he is,” Koichi admitted.

            “So worst-case?”

            Koichi sighed. “Katsuharu. Knowledge doesn’t make a lot of sense for him, and Purity—maybe? He wanted to do what was best for us, and that meant telling me not to use my Spirit. I would have had a better chance if it was Courage, Friendship, or Sincere Faith.” At a loss for what to do, he pulled out his D-tector and activated the compass.

            “What’s that?” Nohemon asked.

            “It points me in the direction of whatever I’m looking for, provided it’s not too close. But only one signal’s showing up.”

            “And that’s bad?”

            “It should be pointing out two, so either one of them is out of range or too close.”

            “Then we should probably get out of here for now,” Nohemon decided. “We’ll get close to the other one.”

            “But what about Teppei and Chiaki?” Koichi asked. “What if they’re attacked?”

            “Well, Greed and Envy definitely sound like they’d attack someone,” Nohemon confessed. “But I don’t think they’d come after your friends. Right now, they’ve been happy attacking you. And if I’m wrong, Lilymon’s here to blast the shit out of them. She’s good at that.”

            They set out as quietly as possible, following the compass. It never showed another signal, so Koichi kept looking up in case someone was spying on them from the rooftops. But he couldn’t see anyone, and it made him uneasy. Fortunately, they made it without incident to what once had been the town treasury, where the mayor had kept the wealth. Katsuharu leaned against the doors, as if bored, the demon mark visible on the back of his left hand. Koichi didn’t know the differences between the symbols, but he didn’t have to in order to know that this was Greed.

            “Sad, isn’t it?” Katsuharu asked. “All the wealth this pathetic village drained. Any currency they’d try to come up with would be worthless—there’s nothing to support an economy.”

            “We’re not buying into your sympathy act,” Nohemon declared, leveling an arrow at him. He tried to aim at the demon mark, but Katsuharu moved his hand out of the way.

            “You know what really pisses me off, Koichi?” Katsuharu continued, totally ignoring Nohemon. “I told you I was the youngest in my family. I never got much. Almost everything went to my sisters first, since they were so much older. You know what I mean, right?” Then he smirked. “Oh, right. I forgot. You don’t have any real siblings, just a twin you never met.”

            Koichi found himself giving Katsuharu a death glare. A week ago, Teppei had smacked Katsuharu in the back of the head with a hammer for stupidity regarding the Beast Spirit. Koichi was going to hit him harder.

            “What do you want?” he asked in a cold voice.

            “Everything,” Katsuharu answered simply. Suddenly, he matched Koichi’s glare. “Do you realize how much you’ve cost me? I gave up so damn much the day you showed up. Sure, the power of the Spirits was great and all, but you reduced me from the irrefutable leader of my friends to a figurehead who can only listen to your judgment and decisions.” He suddenly drew his left hand back, as Nohemon had taken advantage of his distraction to try and hit the demon mark. He missed, making a vertical cut on Katsuharu’s palm. Angrily, Katsuharu pulled out his D-tector and declared, “I want my power back.”

            He didn’t waste any time on using the Human Spirit, choosing instead to evolve directly to Petaldramon. Koichi’s evolution to Duskmon finished a split-second later, but he was more than ready to fight. The front left leg was the weak point, so he aimed for it immediately. But Petaldramon knew to watch himself there and fired a Leaf Cyclone, keeping Duskmon and all of Nohemon’s arrows from getting any closer.

            “Front side won’t work,” Nohemon pointed out. “We’d better try from behind.”

            “Like I’d let you win that easily,” Petaldramon replied, jabbing his tail into the ground.

            Duskmon had a couple of seconds to leap into the air before the ground was torn apart by vines and roots. Cobblestones went flying and houses were demolished as their foundations were ripped apart. Nohemon barely escaped the destruction and rapidly fired several arrows through the plant matter. Those that managed to weave through the roots lodged into Petaldramon’s side, forcing him to scream in pain. It acted as an effective distraction from Duskmon landing on his back, preparing to run up to the head.

            “Damn you!” Petaldramon declared, turning to Nohemon. It only took one Leaf Cyclone to completely tear apart the scarecrow’s body while Duskmon watched.

            A blinding, burning need for vengeance clawed at Koichi’s heart. When he found his voice, he told Duskmon, “Let him have it.”

            Without saying a word, Duskmon fired a Deadly Gaze at the back of Petaldramon’s head, making him lift off his front legs in agony. Duskmon ran forward and leapt off his head to attack the demon mark on the left front foot. Petaldramon was paralyzed from the blow and landed with a crash. But Duskmon didn’t stop there—he continued his assault on all sides, cutting away bark and greenery until Petaldramon was forced to devolve. Katsuharu was bruised and bleeding as he lay on the ground, screaming in combined mental and physical pain. The shadow of the Demon Lord of Greed, Barbamon, appeared over him, seemingly ready to continue fighting.

            Seal it! Duskmon ordered.

            Koichi managed to get a handle on his emotions long enough to hold out the Knowledge tile and try and concentrate on the virtue, but he paused. It still didn’t seem to fit. Katsuharu seemed to have just average intelligence and nothing that really stood out in terms of knowledge or wisdom. Greed was certainly his sin, but Knowledge didn’t appear to be his virtue.

            The confused hesitation was all Barbamon needed to attack. The shadow held out what looked like a staff or scepter, and a cold, dark wind blasted from it. Ordinarily, Duskmon would not be harmed by something of his own element, but this was not his kind of darkness. It was stronger, sharper, and certainly not of this world. His Darkness came from the basic element of the Digital World, from night. This was from a world that knew no day and as such, knew no night. He was forced to shield himself with his swords as it came at him.

            I can’t fight this, he reluctantly admitted. You need to figure out the virtue now.

            “I don’t know!” Koichi cried. “Knowledge, it’s wisdom and learning…” A new thought suddenly hit him. “Wait, Katsuharu does show it—he learns from his mistakes, faster than Teppei at any rate. And he knows how to lead a team from his past as a bully and from being bullied by his sisters. His Knowledge isn’t suppressed by Greed—it grows out of it!”

            The tile began to shine with a purple light that countered the dark wind. It cut into Barbamon’s shadow until there was nothing left and Katsuharu lost consciousness.

            Koichi devolved, and his feeling of victory was greatly overshadowed by grief. One of his friends had killed someone who had been trying to help. He knew that Katsuharu had been possessed by the demon lord and had little to no control over what he’d done, but it didn’t change the fact that Nohemon was gone. He didn’t blame him, but it didn’t ease the grief any.

            “So weak,” Duskmon remarked in disgust. “You should have learned by now. No one stays.”

            “Shut up!” Koichi shouted, not caring who heard him. In fact, there were window curtains from the surrounding houses that were slightly drawn back, and faces cautiously peered out. He didn’t care—let them stare. He was sick of this.

            He wiped his eyes on his sleeve and turned to check on Katsuharu. Nohemon’s crow was sitting on the unconscious boy’s head and resisted all of Koichi’s attempts to shoo it away. Instead, it sat there and cawed in annoyance.

            “Knock it off, already,” Katsuharu groaned, and Koichi jumped in surprise. He should still be unconscious. But Katsuharu stood up, rubbed the back of his head with a grimace, and took stock of his injuries. “Looks like you went overboard. I hope you have bandages.”

            “Katsuharu?” Koichi asked. “Are you okay?”

            “Yeah, I’m fine, but I’m not Katsuharu,” he answered. At Koichi’s blank, confused stare, he pointed at the crow. “The crow’s my true form, but it’s not versatile, so I possess other things, like scarecrows. It’s the whole reason why I tried to fight the Demon Lords before you got the tiles. As long as I could still keep my real body safe, I could trap their data in my borrowed bodies.”

            Koichi realized he was still gaping, so he asked, “But how—Katsuharu?”

            Nohemon-Katsuharu shrugged. “I flew away the moment that wind came at me—I’m smart enough to know my limits. And since your friend’s unconscious, it’s pretty easy to borrow his body to take him back to the inn. I’ll head off to find another scarecrow puppet once I get him bandaged up and in bed.”

            Koichi smiled weakly. “Good plan.”

            Nohemon raised an eyebrow. “You’re not coming too?”

            “I’m going to seal these first,” Koichi replied. “I’ll catch up.”

            “Okay then,” Nohemon agreed, walking off toward the inn.

            Koichi walked toward the underground entrance to the atrium, taking advantage of the solitude to ponder over the sins and virtues. If Knowledge came out of Greed, it stood to reason that the other virtues had grown out of sins as well. Chiaki gained her Sincere Faith after rejecting the apathy of Sloth that the other schoolgirls had forced her to adopt. Teppei gained Courage when he ignored his Pride.

            But how can Purity come out of Envy? Koichi asked himself. And who does Teruo envy? I didn’t think it was in him.

            Something hit him from behind, knocking him into the muddy ground. He got to his hands and knees, spitting out dirt and grass. He could hear Duskmon yelling at him to move, and he narrowly avoided a kick to the side.

            “Teruo?” he asked, staring in surprise at the cruel look on his friend’s face.

            “As much as I enjoy watching you eat dirt, get up,” he ordered, his voice dark and bitter. Koichi got to his feet, still staring in shock and confusion.

            “Why me?” he asked when he found his voice again. “What did I do to you?”

            “You didn’t have to do anything,” Teruo spat. “Everything just happened for you. Like yesterday, when you found out you could absorb attacks better than I could.” He aimed a kick to Koichi’s shoulder, which just missed, grazing him. But Koichi didn’t seem to feel it. “Or the fact that your recovery and immunity are so much better than mine. I nearly get killed and spend weeks recovering and still wind up with scars, and you can sleep anything off.” He jumped up and aimed a roundhouse kick at Koichi’s head. Koichi ducked and, realizing that he had to fight, twisted in to aim a punch. Teruo slid back to avoid it.

            “It’s not like I can control those things,” Koichi argued. He tried a roundhouse of his own, but Teruo caught it before it could connect. Thrown off-balance, Koichi staggered and fell. He had a second to pull himself up before a drop kick missed him. “It’s my Spirit!”

            “You still don’t get it!” Teruo cried, dropping to kick Koichi’s feet out from beneath him. He succeeded, but Koichi managed an awkward somersault to get back on his feet. “You’ll whine and complain about your family life—did you ever think that ours aren’t as good as you think they are? You’re not the only one whose mother can’t look at him without seeing the shadow of the brother he doesn’t know!” He drove a foot into Koichi’s breastbone. To anyone else, it would have caused tremendous pain, maybe even broken it. Koichi was just winded. “And then, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s Chiaki!”

            “What about her?” Koichi asked, even though he already knew. He blocked an incoming kick with an arm and followed it up with a punch to Teruo’s stomach. He felt it and drew back, doubled over.

            “Don’t play around,” he gasped. “I’ve followed you all day. I watched the way you refused to leave her. Don’t try and tell me it’s concern for a friend, otherwise you’d have done the same for Teppei and Katsuharu. And it’s been going on for a while. You’re in pain, she always comes to your side. You screw up and nearly kill her, she forgives you without a second thought. She trains you and keeps your secrets. You don’t say a word, even when you know how I feel!” Shadows swirled around him until they formed the shape of a giant serpent with immense jaws—the Demon Lord of Envy, Leviamon.

            “Deny it,” Duskmon advised. “The rest can be easily explained. Sap his power.”

            I can’t, Koichi realized. The minute he realizes the truth, it’ll start all over again.

            He looked past the demon and stared directly at Teruo as he said, “Yes, I do like her, and I know how much you like her. That’s why I didn’t want to say anything—I didn’t want to damage our friendship.”

            Teruo’s eyes narrowed into a glare. “The damage is already done.” He seemed to absorb the demon’s shadow into himself, taking strength from it. He stood up straight and took out his D-tector. “Evolve now.”

            “What’s it going to prove?” Koichi reasoned. “It’s me you envy, not Duskmon.”

            “I don’t care,” Teruo replied. “I need to prove this to you. I couldn’t defeat you last time, but now I’ve got the demon on my side. I’m stronger.”

            “It’s not your own strength,” Koichi protested. “You’re using the demon as a crutch!”

            “So are you with Duskmon!” Teruo shouted. “Now evolve!”

            With a regretful look on his face, Koichi traded the Purity tile for his D-tector. He at least recognized the irony as he and Teruo made identical movements to scan their Code. Seconds later, they emerged in their evolutions, Mercurymon with a very large demon mark on his central mirror.

            Duskmon launched forward with a large burst of speed and struck with his swords. In movements as fluid as the metal he was named for, Mercurymon raised his shield quickly to block. The swords hit the shield with a great deal of force, only managing to sound a low note for all that trouble. Duskmon jumped back and skidded backwards as he landed. He knew he couldn’t switch to Deadly Gaze—it would be reflected too easily—so he had to depend on his speed and skill to get to Mercurymon’s weak points. Building up his energy, he formed the red power sphere of Lunar Plasma. Mercurymon also conserved his power, watching and waiting for the attack.

            The moon burst apart suddenly, and Duskmon shot out of it with greater speed and force than he’d ever needed before. Mercurymon stood his ground behind his left shield. He was nearly driven into the earth with the attack, and Duskmon took advantage of his vulnerability by striking his left side with power he’d held back, throwing him across the woods. But as he tried to recover, Mercurymon released the energy of the previous attack on him, knocking down trees as it sped toward Duskmon. He was lucky enough to jump out of the way.

            “How did he do that?” Koichi asked in shock. “That’s a physical attack—he shouldn’t be able to absorb it!”

            He’s strong enough now to absorb the force behind it, Duskmon explained quickly. Activate the tile.

            It was easy to do; Teruo had such a pure heart normally that a single memory of him could make the tile glow bright green. But even as he looked at it, Koichi had to confess, “I don’t think this is enough.”

            Sword met shield again as both Warriors matched each other’s speed and strength. When Koichi tried to fight Envy with Purity, Teruo was always able to block the incoming attack. The battle was getting them nowhere; Duskmon’s best chance for victory would be to lure Mercurymon to the atrium and seal him behind the Gate.

            “You can’t!” Koichi argued, knowing full well that Duskmon was serious about this threat. “It’s the demon we’re trying to stop, not Teruo himself.”

            Do you have a better suggestion? Duskmon asked.

            Remembering his search for answers about his brother and father, Koichi replied, “Yeah, I do, actually.”

            The very next time Mercurymon was close enough, Duskmon held out a hand toward his head. His darkness gathered around Mercurymon, causing him to scream in agony as the Spirit of Darkness broke into his mind, searching for Leviamon in order to seal him away. In a desperate act of defense, Mercurymon raised his shields, absorbing part of the darkness into one and reflecting it out of the other right back at Duskmon.

            Both boys screamed when it felt like their heads were being physically ripped to shreds. Koichi forced himself to regain control of the attack. Soon, the pain ended, and they found themselves in a blue and gray space that looked much like a sky filled with rain-clouds. When he’d caught his breath, Koichi saw that Duskmon was fighting Leviamon some distance away, and Teruo was surrounded by a green aura that connected him to the Demon Lord.

            “What did you do?” Teruo demanded.

            “I think we’re in my mind now,” Koichi said. “Duskmon can fight Envy a lot easier here.”

            Teruo ran forward to punch him, but Koichi just managed to turn out of the way. “Damn it!” Teruo yelled. “Just keep out of this! I don’t need you coming in to steal the spotlight like you do all the time!”

            Koichi ducked a kick aimed at his shoulder. “I already told you; I didn’t ask for this. You—you’ve got both parents to love you, even if they stifle you. Your father doesn’t pretend you don’t exist, and your mother doesn’t get so sick from sadness that you’re not sure how long she’ll last. You have a Spirit that doesn’t try to corrupt you and convince you that you should only rely on yourself. You’re the one who’s lucky. You just don’t see it with Envy blinding you.”

            “And it’s back to you again!” Teruo realized, punching again.

            By now, Koichi’s patience had run extremely thin. He grabbed Teruo’s fist and twisted underneath his arm to lock Teruo’s arm behind his back. He held it back there tightly, until Teruo cried out in pain.

            “Listen,” Koichi insisted. “I’m sorry for whatever problems I caused, and I’m going to live with the problems I already have. You have to too. If you’re going to get out of everyone’s shadows, you have to do it yourself.”

            “That’s what I’m doing!” Teruo insisted, and he shouted when Koichi twisted his arm harder.

            “No you’re not. You’re just letting yourself stand in an even bigger shadow.”

            Meanwhile, Duskmon was still fighting Leviamon, leaping as high as he could to avoid the serpent’s huge mouth. He fired a Deadly Gaze from above, but it only succeeded in irritating the Demon Lord. Leviamon snaked up and tried to snap his jaws around Duskmon, but he was strong enough to hold the mouth open and blast another Deadly Gaze. Leviamon shouted in pain, practically spitting Duskmon out. Duskmon skidded as he landed before running forward and slashing at the prone demon.

            “I sense much wrath in you,” Leviamon noticed, his voice raspy from the attack. “You too are a Digimon of darkness. Why not join me and replace my fallen brothers?”

            “You must have me confused with the human,” Duskmon remarked. “I’m nobody’s brother.”

            As the battle continued, Teruo managed to kick Koichi’s shin hard enough to throw him off-balance. He then threw his weight backwards to land on Koichi as they fell. He quickly rolled off while Koichi was winded, getting to his feet faster. Hurriedly, Koichi stood, holding the Purity tile, which was shining brightly. Teruo came forward with another punch, but Koichi caught it again and shoved the tile into his hand. The light faded immediately.

            “That little thing isn’t doing anything against me,” Teruo observed.

            “It’s not supposed to,” Koichi bit back, catching him off-guard. “You’re the one who needs to activate it, not me. I’m through.”

            The declaration took a lot of the wind out of Teruo’s sails. “What?”

            “I said I’m done,” Koichi repeated. “If you honestly can’t stand me this much, then I’ll just leave without a word to anybody. I’m good at staying hidden—you won’t hear from me again.” He turned and walked away. “I’m waking up.”

            Koichi felt shaky when he opened his eyes. The darkness that had surrounded him and Teruo had dissipated when they devolved, leaving them lying on the grass. Teruo was still unconscious, his mind somewhere in the almost collective unconscious the attack had created. It took a great deal of effort for Koichi to reach into his pocket and check the Purity tile. No light was shining from it—it was cold and dark from Teruo’s inability to activate the virtue.

            He got to his knees and thought he was going to be sick. It suddenly felt like all of the blood had rushed to his brain, giving him severe vertigo. Only when he was sure he wasn’t going to throw up did he pull himself over to a tree to try and stand up. After a long time spent clinging to the tree trunk for support, he started walking. His head was pounding, and his vision was blurred from his tearing eyes. By the time he reached the atrium, he was almost blind and his head felt like it had been split open.

            A pair of hands caught him before he could trip. He guessed this was Gargoylemon, which was confirmed when the sinner asked, “What happened?”

            “Tried fighting Envy,” Koichi explained, digging in his pocket for the tiles. He handed them over. “Only got Knowledge and Courage.”

            Gargoylemon had him sit against one of the walls and promised, “I’ll seal them.”

            Koichi closed his eyes against the light of the sealing, feeling more tears stream down his face. He’d never had a headache this painful before. It was extremely tempting to just give in and lose consciousness.

            “You played with things you shouldn’t have, didn’t you?” Gargoylemon guessed.

            “I thought trying to let Envy attack my mind would work, since the Spirit could fight it off,” Koichi explained. “I didn’t think it would be this bad.”

            “We never do, no matter how much we try to justify our actions,” Gargoylemon replied. “At least your intentions were nobler than mine. I opened the Gate because I wanted the power the other world offered. Instead, all I managed to do was release the sins and make everyone suffer because of them. I only tried to repent after they took someone from me. But you kids stand a chance to do so much better. Your differences don’t mean a thing because you look past them so you can do your jobs. That’s how you five activated the Hope tile so easily and fought off Gluttony. You’re this world’s new hope. You’ll be the ones to fix what we’ve all broken and finally bring peace to us. So don’t ever give in to our sins.”

            Was Koichi capable of listening, he would have realized that Gargoylemon was no longer talking to him, but through him to Teruo. And somehow or another, Teruo heard it. He suddenly didn’t feel like the hero he was being called. He looked at the tile in his hands with regret.

            “I’ve been so stupid,” he realized in disgust. The green aura around him started to shrink and slowly faded away. “How long was I letting this eat at me? Koichi wasn’t the one screwing up our friendship. I was.”

            Leviamon, sensing the steady loss of envy from Teruo, turned away from his battle with Duskmon and slithered over to try and devour the boy one more time. But Teruo knew he was coming, and with determination showing in every part of him, he turned in his direction and held out the tile.

            “I’m not letting you corrupt me anymore!” he declared, and the tile shone brilliantly in light green. It acted as a shield between him and the demon, and the serpent burned away as it came into the light.

            The light vanished, and for a moment, there was silence. Soon, Teruo heard labored breathing and suppressed cries of pain behind him. He turned and saw a mostly-solid Koichi, caught between tangibility and transparency as much as he was caught between unconsciousness and awareness. Duskmon walked past Teruo toward Koichi, and Teruo realized what the problem was. The battle wasn’t over—there was one last demon to fight.

            “Koichi, look out!” he warned.

            Koichi looked up and saw Duskmon coming at him. He dove as the sword came at him, only to be hit by a Deadly Gaze concentrated in an eye on one of Duskmon’s feet. Without a second thought, Teruo ran into the battle, calling on his Spirit for help. He couldn’t seem to evolve in his mind, but he could form a shield. Koichi had managed to stand, but he was completely unable to defend himself against Duskmon’s swords. Teruo got between them to shield Koichi.

            “I’m not sure what’s going on,” he confessed, “but I think you have to fight him.”

            For a moment, Koichi was shocked, but that soon turned into defiance. “You still want to take control, is that it? You waited until all of the sins were captured, so you could try to seal me.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to draw on the Spirit of Darkness, but even so, he formed the staff from his last battle and held it in front of himself in a defensive stance. Then he took his place next to Teruo and started trying to push Duskmon back into the depths of his unconscious.

            “Thanks for helping me,” Koichi grunted, trying to keep up his strength and will. Teruo didn’t answer, hoping Koichi would just think it was because of the struggle against Duskmon. It was difficult work trying to suppress him; Koichi often found himself slipping and falling, and Teruo couldn’t fight for him. He could only help him stand and lend him the strength he needed not to give in.

            They reached a point where the gray of their surroundings gave way to black—the deepest part of Koichi’s unconscious. Teruo stopped and said, “I can’t do any more. You have to finish this.” But still, he stood a little more than a foot away and watched.

            Koichi’s fight against Duskmon suddenly looked like he was trying to push back a solid brick wall. Duskmon barely had to fight back. He seemed to put no effort at all into pushing Koichi back into a defensive stance.

            “I will always be stronger than you,” Duskmon reminded him. “Your entire life depends on me. It’s only right that I claim what should be mine.”

            “No,” Koichi argued. Despite the odds against him, he managed to keep his footing as he pushed Duskmon closer to the boundary between gray and black. “I’m not letting you win. I’ve got too much to lose.” With renewed strength, he shoved Duskmon back into the darkness where he belonged.

            Everything started to blur as Koichi’s natural mental barriers went back into place. For a minute, everything was hazy, but soon his vision cleared enough for him to see Gargoylemon watching over him. There were no more voices in his head and no more headaches. He sighed in relief.

            “It’s over,” he realized.

            “Not yet,” Gargoylemon warned. “I managed to seal Envy while you were out, but now there’s the matter of the lock.”

            “Lock?” he repeated, trying to stand. His legs felt unsteady, but he managed to lean against the wall for support.

            Gargoylemon gave him a concerned look. “You can’t evolve, can you?”

            “Not right now,” Koichi answered. “Besides, I just pushed Duskmon back into my unconscious. I don’t think he’ll forgive me for a while.”

            “All right,” Gargoylemon agreed. “It’s probably better if I do it this way anyway.” He held out his hands, summoning darkness. Koichi stared at him, unsure of what was about to happen but not liking it all the same.

            “What are you doing?” he asked.

            “The sinner must repent,” Gargoylemon explained. “I’ve had you clean up my mistakes, and that wasn’t fair. The only way I can make amends now is to form the seal myself.” Koichi looked at him in shock, ready to intervene, but Gargoylemon warned, “It’s my choice, just as much as fighting the sins and your own demons was your choice. I might not be able to make everything right, but I can at least do this. Black Statue!”

            A dark statue of a black-winged angel appeared before him. The angel took up a sword and drove it through Gargoylemon before shattering. Gargoylemon’s Fractal Code manifested, and Koichi realized what he had to do.

            “Fractal Code, digitize,” he ordered, unable to keep the wavering from his voice.

            He then walked over to the Gate and rendered the Code. The entire atrium reacted, shining brightly. Shadows traveled along the walls to the Gate, being drawn in like a vacuum. Everything was so bright that Koichi had to shield his eyes; it honestly looked like nothing else existed in the world but him, the Gate, the darkness, and the light. And then it was gone, hiding the Gate behind a repaired mosaic. But the part that stood where the Gate had been told a new story—the story of five heroes who had come to try and save the village, yet they themselves fell prey to the demons. One who had struggled with his demons during the entire journey managed to fight and once again seal five of the demons. Below that tale were tiles engraved with the symbols of the Spirits of Water, Earth, Wood, Steel, and Darkness. He thought it left out a great deal of the story, but he knew better than to argue with a wall. He turned and walked out of the atrium.

            ~~~

            Sunlight streamed into the bedroom from an open window. Teruo considered pulling the covers over his head so he could sleep longer but ultimately decided he’d had enough of darkness. He got up.

            The others were also starting to wake. Chiaki and Teppei were in beds while Teruo and Katsuharu were in cots set up in the room. There was a third cot with the blankets folded on top of it. Teruo felt his heart sink as he remembered his fight with Koichi. It looked like Koichi had made good on his promise to leave.

            “They’re awake!” Neemon happily cried, coming into the room. Bokomon followed him in seconds later.

            “How are you feeling?” he asked.

            None of them could quite look at each other, but Katsuharu answered, “Better than we should be, considering what happened.”

            “Well, everything’s been put right,” Bokomon assured them. “Koichi sealed all of the sins, so they won’t be coming back.”

            “Where is he?” Chiaki asked. Teruo flinched. “We really need to apologize for what we did and said…”

            “How are they?” asked a familiar voice down the hall.

            “You’re back!” Neemon declared as Koichi walked up.

            Everyone looked at him with apprehension, and they were shocked to see him smile. “I’m glad you’re okay. I was scared when you didn’t wake up.” Then he paused. “You are all okay, right?”

            “Sorry,” Teppei apologized suddenly, making Koichi blink at the incongruity of the response to his question. “I can probably speak for everyone when I say we’re sorry for everything.”

            “It’s okay,” Koichi assured. “I know how hard it is trying to deal with a demon. I don’t blame any of you.”

            “After all that?” Katsuharu asked. “How can you forgive us?”

            “Because you’re my friends,” he answered. “And I know you weren’t in control of yourselves. Trust me, you didn’t cross any lines I can’t forgive.”

            Some of us came close, Teruo thought, knowing everyone else was thinking the same.

            “And I know this sounds kind of weird, but are you up to leaving by tonight?” Koichi checked. “We kind of got kicked out of town, and they wanted us out as soon as you woke up.”

            Katsuharu looked over at the others and decided, “Yeah. I think we might even be able to make it out by this afternoon. Personally, I want to get as far away from here as possible.” The others nodded in agreement.

            “You can ask Lilymon for some supplies,” Koichi offered. “I want to talk to Teruo for a second.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed. “No problem. Come on.” The others slowly followed him out, and Chiaki watched them carefully before closing the door on her way out. Koichi didn’t reveal anything in the way he held himself, but Teruo was nervous and ashamed.

            “Teruo, I’m sorry,” Koichi apologized. “I never meant to be such a burden on the team. And I’m sorry that I’ve been upstaging you.”

            “It’s not you,” Teruo replied. “I think I’ve always been prone to envy. It explains how I managed to hero worship Takuya so much—I think I was jealous of him for being everything I couldn’t be. But you were different. You’re a lot like me. And I guess seeing you get what you really did deserve and everything you don’t made me feel like I wasn’t going anywhere. I was always just going to be Teruo, the failure.”

            “You’re not,” Koichi insisted. “After all, they don’t call you the Angel-slayer for no reason.” This actually got Teruo to laugh a little, and Koichi smiled briefly before adding, “And about Chiaki…”

            Teruo winced. “I was hoping I’d dreamed that part.”

            “I’ll stay out of it,” Koichi promised. “I’m fine just being friends with her, if it means I’m not losing you as a friend too.”

            “No, I was just being stupid,” Teruo said. “I don’t even know if she likes me that way in return. Yeah, it bothers me a little bit, but I’ll get over it.”

            Koichi cracked a smile. “When did these things start getting complicated? Before I came to the Digital World, I hardly noticed girls. Now, I’m trying hard not to lose a friend over one.”

            Teruo smiled back. “I think this is part of growing up. But it’s starting to make being a kid forever look a lot easier.” Koichi laughed. “So, we’re okay with each other?”

            “Yeah,” Koichi replied.

            Teruo started to grin, but a sudden memory wiped it off his face, and he lowered his head. “You know, all the things I said back there—some part of me meant it.”

            “I know. And I’m okay with it, really.”

            “I don’t hate you, though,” Teruo insisted. “I envy you sometimes, but I never hated you.”

            Koichi smiled. “I never believed you did.” And finally, it was all right for Teruo to grin.

            They set out a couple of hours later, more than ready to leave the previously cursed village behind them. But on their way out of the village proper, Nohemon, who had acquired a new scarecrow puppet, stopped them.

            “You’re heading out again?” he noticed. Koichi nodded. “So who guards the guardians, kid? You can’t do it yourself all the time.”

            Koichi looked at his friends momentarily before answering, “We’ll watch each other.”

            Nohemon smirked. “Good luck out there.”

            “Thanks,” Koichi replied.

            And they left the village and never came back.

 

As this is a two-parter, most of the references are the same as in part one. Much of the fighting against Teruo and Leviamon was inspired by Ed’s fights with Envy in Full Metal Alchemist and the movie Conqueror of Shamballa. The rest, once again, is taken from tae kwon do (namely the roundhouse and drop kicks, which are easy enough for non-martial-artists like Teruo and Koichi to perform). The final scene (along with the title) was pretty much taken from the Justice League Unlimited episode “Divided We Fall,” where Batman turns to Green Arrow and asks a famous Latin quote: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Green Arrow replies, “‘Who guards the guardians?’ We’ve got it covered.” As always, thanks to Ryan Griffin and Shaun Garin for their help.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Seventeen: “No Turning Back”

            “Okay, I get most of the Beast Spirits,” Petaldramon said, slamming his tail into the ground. “Bird, squid, wolf, dragon-bird thing, plant-dragon thing, and now a yeti. But will someone please explain to me how a tank qualifies?” In response, the aforementioned tank, MetalKabuterimon, blasted lightning from the cannon atop his head.

            “No clue,” Grumblemon replied, trying to avoid Korikakumon’s axes. “Personally, I think whoever designed our evolutions must have been drunk or something.”

            “I think I’ll have to agree on that one,” Calmaramon admitted, rubbing a bruise on her arm. “Why anyone thought it was a good idea to give us girls less armor, I’ll never know.”

            “Must have thought you were dainty,” Grumblemon answered. “Hey, Teruo, how’s Koichi doing? Lost track of him a while ago.”

            “You know him,” Mercurymon replied, quickly reflecting one of BurningGreymon’s fire blasts. “He and Koji ran off to fight. You know Duskmon’s not a people-person.”

            “Understatement of the year,” Grumblemon said.

            “Ugh, what is with you guys chatting during a fight?” BurningGreymon exclaimed.

            “It helps break up the monotony of us kicking your asses,” Petaldramon answered.

            Meanwhile, close to the seashore, the second half of the battle raged on. Two pairs of swords clashed in the heat of battle, their wielders each trying to knock the other off his feet. Beside them, the sun was sinking below the horizon. Whoever could hold out until nightfall would win.

            Lobomon kicked up the sand around them, trying to blind Duskmon. But the Warrior of Darkness was too fast, dodging until he was just on the edge of the water, with the setting sun behind him. He unleashed his Deadly Gaze, forcing Lobomon to step back as he tried to throw each red beam aside. Duskmon charged again, and the swords struck each other as the two swordsmen dodged and slashed in a never-ending dance of destruction.

            Suddenly, Lobomon felt something entwined around his ankle. He spared a glance down to see seaweed and remnants of an old abandoned fishing net holding him to the spot. Duskmon was coming at him, so he raised and crossed his swords in a block as he ripped his foot free.

            They promptly dropped the fight when the wave came, sweeping them both out to sea. The riptide pulled them under, and they devolved to keep from sinking any farther with the heavy armor. Both had nearly run out of air from kicking against the current, but somehow, they pulled themselves to shore and gasped for air while on hands and knees. And despite himself, once he managed to start breathing again, Koichi started cracking up.

            “Next time we fight, can we avoid the tides?”

            Koji shook his head in exasperation. “You’re crazy.”

            At this point, the others had come over to be sure they were all right. But upon seeing Koichi laughing helplessly, Grumblemon and Calmaramon looked at each other with raised eyebrows.

            “Guess he’s okay,” Grumblemon decided.

            While Calmaramon covered his back, Mercurymon gave Koichi a hand so he could get up. It was only by chance that BurningGreymon got a good look at him, and it was only by chance that the water had flattened Koichi’s thick hair against his scalp, making his resemblance to Koji much more apparent.

            No way, he denied. There’s no way! They look exactly alike—how?

            And why didn’t anyone else see it? Zephyrmon was practically right next to him as they fought Calmaramon—she, at least, should be able to see the guy! Why didn’t Koji see this? How could he not notice that he had a doppelganger on the enemy’s side? But after dodging a few attacks that had come dangerously close, the heat and wind had dried his hair somewhat and blown it about, breaking the illusion. It still bothered Takuya, though.

            Soon enough, though, the better team won out. Nobody was quite sure what had happened, but in the past couple of weeks since they had last fought, Cherubimon’s Warriors were suffering in terms of teamwork. Exhausted and defeated, they devolved and fell in a heap in front of Ophanimon’s Warriors. It would have been so easy to finish them off right then and there, but Takuya couldn’t make himself give the order—not while the Warrior of Darkness was standing so close by, giving them that defiant stare as he held his D-tector. He was just about to scan his Fractal Code through it when BurningGreymon gave his order:

            “Let’s go.”

            Everyone stared at him in shock, and the Warrior of Darkness blinked. BurningGreymon repeated, “Let’s go,” more forcefully, making them retreat.

            “Why?” Teruo asked suddenly, making him pause. “We lost. Why are you letting us go?”

            The rest of Takuya’s team looked at him, wondering the exact same thing. Trying to save face, he answered, “Maybe I don’t want to face Duskmon right now and find out if he really is stronger than five Beast Spirits.”

            “Can’t say you don’t learn,” Koji muttered.

            “Koichi,” someone finally said, and Takuya realized he’d never actually heard the Warrior of Darkness’s human voice before. It sounded much less forceful and confident than he’d expected from someone who evolved to Duskmon. And when BurningGreymon looked at him, he could see that the Warrior of Darkness himself was surprised at his outburst.

            “What was that?” MetalKabuterimon asked in confusion.

            “My name,” he replied. “Koichi. If—if you know the others’, then you should know mine.” As an afterthought, he added, “It’s only fair.”

            “Fine,” BurningGreymon answered, inwardly thinking, Even the name is similar! “Koichi, then. Come on, guys.”

            Once they were several kilometers away, they finally stopped to rest. Zoë pulled out a money pouch from their supplies and counted the amount while the others dug into the bandages and medicine. Their injuries were minor—merely bumps and cuts, but it was always a good idea to treat them before they could get worse.

            “These Beast Spirits are great,” Tommy declared, only needing to rub some ointment on a scrape on his arm. “We’re not getting hurt as bad anymore.”

            “And with five of us to two of them, we definitely have the advantage,” J.P. added.

            “Hey, it looks like we have enough money to buy some food, plus enough left over if we need anything else,” Zoë noticed. “Did anyone see a town around here?”

            “Aside from the one that Cherubimon’s Warriors just left?” Koji asked. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. That was the closest town around, and we can’t risk going to the same places they went.”

            “Well, maybe,” Takuya mused. Everyone looked at him in surprise.

            “What?” Koji asked.

            “We might stand a chance if we don’t reveal who we are—hide our D-tectors, don’t use our names, you know?” he replied. “I mean, how many Digimon are going to know who we are if we don’t tell them? Half the time, they called us ‘human’ to begin with.”

            The others looked at each other and blinked before Zoë finally said, “I think you just managed to impress all of us this time.”

            Ordinarily, Takuya would have gotten offended or possibly even have laughed it off. Today, however, he nodded distractedly and simply led them to town. Confused but ready to move on, the others exchanged bemused glances before following.

            The town looked like some kind of movie depiction of a Spanish settlement in the 1800s—something right out of a Zorro film. There were farmhouses sparsely scattered around, a partially destroyed mansion, some smaller and mostly in-tact buildings, and a Wild West-style cantina full of Digimon laughing and drinking. A drunken Nanimon went flying out of the swinging doors and landed on the street, too inebriated to get up. Young Digimon who had been playing nearby laughed and started pulling pranks before he could wake up.

            “Looks like as good a place as any, I guess,” Takuya decided, sounding a bit uncertain of that, though the others were far more reluctant to enter. But thankfully, once they were inside, they could see that the atmosphere was happy and not violent. Anyone who tried to make trouble was thrown out, often literally.

            “Hey, more humans!” declared a Firamon.

            “Be there in a second!” promised a Togemon, who was taking care of customers on the other side of the restaurant. Ophanimon’s Warriors took this as a cue to find a table.

            It was easier said than done, however, but they finally managed to get a table that could seat five. A mariachi band of Ponchomon was playing merrily while customers sang badly while downing what looked like some kind of rum. It was still easy to get non-alcoholic drinks, for the sake of their sanity, and the food was cheap and decent. All in all, it was a relaxing setting, and Ophanimon’s Warriors truly loosened up for the first time in several months.

            “So what brings a bunch of humans here anyway?” a Togemogumon asked, carefully sipping a drink from a dish.

            Somehow or another, it had been decided that Koji would handle any details regarding alibis, as he was the one who could maintain the straightest face while lying. So under the pretense of getting a drink, he stalled to think of a believable excuse.

            “We just got here by chance,” he said finally, borrowing Cherubimon’s Warriors’ reason for staying. “A Trailmon took us here from the human world, and we didn’t feel like going back.”

            “You ever see Cherubimon’s Warriors?” a Paildramon asked.

            “We’ve heard about them, but not much,” Koji replied, baiting the patrons into giving them information. This was another reason why he was in charge of alibis—he was better at getting what they needed. “Anything you can tell us about them?”

            Hook, line, and sinker. It didn’t take long for everyone in the restaurant to start telling stories of their heroes. Apparently, the whole reason for the celebration was the recent deposition of a ruthless governor.

            “So they overthrew Diaboromon for you?” J.P. asked.

            “Well, not exactly,” a Matadormon answered. “They fought him, but only managed to destroy most of his mansion. But they inspired us to stand up for ourselves, and together, we took him down.” They nodded; this seemed to fit with their earlier battle. Fatigue from this battle obviously hadn’t helped when combined with whatever it was that was affecting Cherubimon’s Warriors’ performance.

            “Hey, strike up the music again!” Paildramon declared.

            “Come on, we’re beat!” one of the Ponchomon complained. “Give us a break.” As everyone else started groaning, he grumbled, “Well, if you want music so badly, why don’t you give it a shot?”

Without warning, Koji walked over to the instruments. As he picked up the guitar, Takuya asked, “What are you doing?”

            “Might as well,” he answered.

            “Never thought I’d see the day you’d let loose and have fun,” Takuya muttered.

            “You can play?” Tommy asked, drowning out Takuya’s words.

            “Some,” Koji admitted, tuning the guitar to his taste. “My dad used to play back in high school and college and gave me his old one. I’m not as into it as he was, which probably disappoints him, but I put up with the lessons anyway and I play when I get the urge.”

            “Are you sure you’re good enough?” J.P. asked. “You just said you hardly play.”

            Koji smirked, accepting it as a challenge. “I can play with my eyes closed.”

            And so he did, strumming first to get the hang of the guitar’s sound before playing an old song most of the others were sure they’d heard before, but couldn’t exactly name. When he was finished, he set the guitar down almost wistfully while everyone around him applauded.

            “What was that song?” Zoë asked. “It almost sounds familiar.”

            “It was my mother’s favorite,” he confessed. The others blinked in shock; Koji never discussed his family beyond mentioning that he didn’t have a great relationship with his parents. It was a taboo among them. Takuya thought this might be an opening to bring up his concerns regarding the Warrior of Darkness, Koichi, but before he could say anything, Koji was fending off requests to play again.

            “Sorry, this is a one-time only performance,” he said, clamming up immediately. The patrons groaned in disappointment, and Takuya fought the urge to do the same. It didn’t look like he was going to get to ask his questions for quite a while.

            ~~~

            They managed to camp out in a barn for the night. It felt safe, so they didn’t feel any need to work out a guard schedule. Instead, they secured a couple of candles and sat around the light, talking. Since they were trying to keep a low profile, they didn’t talk about anything regarding the Digital World. Tonight, everything was about the human world.

            “So how can you be afraid of storms?” Takuya asked J.P. Being careful to keep from revealing their identities, he added, “Lightning likes you, if you get what I mean.”

            “Didn’t like me back home,” J.P. argued.

            “I’m with him,” Zoë agreed. “Nature’s a lot more controlled here than it is at home. I wouldn’t want to face down a typhoon or a fire in the human world, but in the Digital World, it isn’t always a problem.”

            “Good point,” Takuya conceded. “Sometimes, I forget that at home, I’d still be just an ordinary kid playing soccer, not running around in another world.” All of a sudden, he smiled gently.

            “What is it?” Tommy asked.

            “Nothing really,” he answered. “I just remembered that my dad promised my brother and me that he’d take us to play soccer—my brother’s starting it too, and since Dad helped me out a lot with it when I first started, we both thought we’d try teaching him the weekend I left. Now I won’t get the chance.”

            It was an unexpected melancholy that swept over Ophanimon’s Warriors, probably originally spurred on by Koji’s nostalgic melody. They stared into the candlelight, unable to think of anything else but their memories. But then finally, finally, Koji spoke.

            “My mom died when I was two,” he said in a low voice. “Three years ago, my dad remarried. Satomi’s nice, but she’s not my mom. She never will be.”

            “Man,” Takuya breathed, unsure of what to say. Ultimately, he decided on “That’s rough.”

            Koji shrugged. “Tell me about it.”

            It was risky, but Takuya knew he had to ask more. As long as he could make it seem like he was the only one there, maybe Koji wouldn’t shut them out again. “So do you have any other family that might know her?”

            “No,” Koji replied. “As far as I know, my mom didn’t have any other family, and my dad’s an only child. Plus, Dad doesn’t get along well with his parents.” A humorless smile formed on his face. “Guess that one’s genetic.”

            “Maybe we should get some sleep,” J.P. suggested. It didn’t take long for everyone to agree. Things just felt too uncomfortable now.

            They blew out the candles and stored them with their supplies before making themselves comfortable in their straw beds. After a while, everyone else fell asleep, but Takuya could tell Koji was still awake.

            “Hey, Koji?” he whispered. “Sorry about your mom. I didn’t mean to bring it up.” There wasn’t any answer, but Takuya continued, “I think I’d probably do the same in your shoes. As nice as your stepmom is, you just want to know about your real mom, and you don’t have anyone else to talk to but your dad. That’s why you two don’t get along too well, right?” Again, there was silence. “You know, my dad’s a teacher, so he’s not always around when Shinya and I need him, and he’s always dealing with his students. When I was younger, I used to be jealous about it, but now, I get it. Sometimes those kids need someone to talk to, and no matter what, Dad’s always been able to listen. Sure, he may forget my brother’s birthday and push back promises to play soccer with us, but when we really, really need it, he’s there to listen. I think if you just talk to your dad, he’ll listen too.”

            “It’s talking that got me into this mess in the first place,” Koji argued. “Dad wants me to move on, but I’m not ready to let go of this. If I call Satomi ‘Mom,’ it’s like giving up on my real mother. I never even got the chance to know her—all I’ve got is one photograph.”

            “You at least know something,” Takuya reminded him. “You know her favorite song. It’s not much, but it’s a start.”

            “It’s a start, all right,” Koji agreed. “I was about seven when I started playing—Dad was still dating Satomi. I was bored with most of the lessons and I wanted out, but then Dad got nostalgic and started playing that song. When he told me it was Mom’s favorite, I started getting serious about the lessons. But that’s probably the only song I can play by heart.”

            “And the song was what got you interested about your mom?” Takuya guessed.

            Koji nodded. “At that point, they’d gotten engaged, so I really started feeling the pressure to find out about her. But this and the picture are really all I have.”

            Takuya nodded this time before asking, “So what’s your dad like anyway? The way you make it sound, he’s stricter than my mom.”

            Koji actually laughed, having heard plenty of complaints about his friend’s mother. “He’s not that bad. He’s a lawyer, which means he can fight back when I start arguing with him. But he’s a good guy overall. He never laid a hand on me, even though I guess sometimes I was asking for it. I don’t agree with him all the time, but I still respect him.”

            “Yeah, I get what you mean,” Takuya replied. “Anyway, ‘night.” Once again, there wasn’t a reply, but it was just Koji’s way. Takuya closed his eyes and settled back into the straw, feeling mostly content with his answers—or at least content enough to ignore his absolute confusion regarding that look-alike Koichi.

            ~~~

            It was almost noon when they woke up, which initially made them panic. They usually woke up easily and ran off by dawn, but they’d felt so relaxed the night before that they were able to sleep in for the first time in a long time. And in any case, it wasn’t an issue they had to worry about—more than half the town was still asleep anyway from partying well into the night. Still, they decided it was a good time to start moving on, so they packed up what they had and started walking out of town.

            “Look out!” someone cried suddenly, and they stopped short at the sight of a golden ball coming toward them. Soccer instincts kicked in, and Takuya tried to halt it with his chest, but that only sent him flying. He lay on the ground, winded for several minutes, as the ball—a curled up Armadillomon—unrolled and crawled off of him.

            “Sorry!” he apologized. “I’m really sorry!”

            More apologies came from the four Digimon running after Armadillomon—a Coronamon, a Veemon, a Psychemon, and an Impmon.

            “I’m so sorry!” Coronamon cried. “I didn’t mean to kick him all the way over here! Are you okay?”

            “Mind waiting until I can get up?” Takuya asked, sitting up. Once the Digimon backed off somewhat, he stood and checked himself for injuries. Aside from some bruising, he didn’t think he was hurt that badly. “I think I’m okay.”

            “I’m sorry!” Coronamon apologized again.

            “It’s okay,” Takuya assured. “Just watch out next time, okay?”

            “Okay,” they promised. Once they were certain they wouldn’t be punished, they returned to their game.

            Takuya winced when he tried to sit again. The others started to hover, but he waved them off. He was just winded. And in any case, he wasn’t angry about what happened. Ordinarily, he would be, but he just wasn’t feeling right at the moment. Something about this town made him concentrate on the past. For example, those Digimon were playing soccer, using Armadillomon as the ball.

            “I never would have thought of playing it that way,” Zoë commented, watching the kids play. “I wish I had though—it’d be nice to play again.”

            Everyone looked over at her in surprise, and J.P. asked, “You play soccer?”

            “I used to,” she confessed, “back in Italy. But since we moved, I haven’t had anyone to play with. Why? You don’t think I’d be good at it?”

            Hearing that dangerous tone start to enter her voice, J.P. quickly raised his hands in defense and stammered, “No, no, that’s not what I mean! I just thought you’d be into ballet or something.”

            “No way,” Zoë declared. “Ballet’s too slow and meticulous for me. I like soccer because it’s faster and not as structured. One of these days, I’ve got to start playing again.”

            “Maybe we could all play,” Tommy suggested. “Takuya said he’s good at it, and I’d like to try someday.”

            Zoë smiled. “Yeah, that’d be nice.”

            But before they could plan anything more, Armadillomon went flying into someone else—this time, a mean looking FlyBeemon and two Shadramon. When Armadillomon tried to apologize, FlyBeemon threw him back toward the others, knocking all five of them down. As they started to walk over to them, Takuya raced over to cut them off.

            “Lay off,” he ordered. “They’re just kids. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

            “Well, it’s about time they learned,” FlyBeemon decided. “And are you dumb enough to stop us?” Takuya stood his ground, so FlyBeemon prepared to plunge his claws into his stomach. “Goodbye, then, hero.”

            He was completely shocked when Takuya caught the claws and managed to hold him off, growling, “I told you to lay off!” Furthermore, the others had just joined him, forming a barrier between the thugs and the kids.

            “Burn ‘em!” FlyBeemon ordered.

            “Flare Buster!” the Shadramon chorused, creating a ring of flames around the group. The younger Digimon started trembling—two were fire-elementals, but even they weren’t strong enough to stand up to these flames.

            Takuya started straining against the force FlyBeemon was exerting against him. “What’s the matter, hero? Can’t take the heat?”

            “Funny,” Takuya grunted, dropping and using FlyBeemon’s force against him, flipping him over into the fire. “I could ask you the same thing!”

            The Shadramon immediately attacked while their leader flew out of the flames and tried to recover. Fire burst at Ophanimon’s Warriors, but they were fast. While J.P., Zoë, and Tommy ducked out of the way, Koji and Takuya returned attacks at the Shadramon. Koji scored an uppercut against one while Takuya threw off the other’s aim by hitting his arms with a roundhouse kick. From the air, FlyBeemon unleashed a lightning attack, forcing them to stay close to the ground. They knew they had to end this soon; their skin was burning and it was becoming difficult to breathe.

            “We’re going to make an opening,” Takuya instructed the kids. “As soon as it’s there, run.” They nodded, too afraid to do anything else.

            Both of the Shadramon and FlyBeemon aimed again, and the five Warriors decided it was time to end the charade:

            “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            The kids gasped at the sight of them, but they were not afraid. They didn’t know that Agunimon and everyone were far from the heroes Cherubimon’s Warriors were. All that mattered was that they were Warriors and they were here to protect them from danger.

            The Shadramon were also gaping, but as soon as FlyBeemon ordered, “What are you standing around for? Get them!” they attacked again. Kazemon sent a wind gust at them, sending the flames backward while Lobomon used his swords to deflect what came near him. When the Shadramon were pushed back, Beetlemon slammed a fist into the ground, summoning lightning to strike them. One strike was all he needed.

            Kumamon, meanwhile, blasted enough ice around to douse the flames so that the Digimon could escape. Everyone but Coronamon hurried to safety. But he only paused for a second or two to look back at Agunimon as he leapt into the air to attack FlyBeemon. There was a small smile on the young Digimon’s face before he ran home.

            “Just you and me now, FlyBeemon!” Agunimon shouted, smashing a flaming punch into the insect’s abdomen. “You don’t have your thugs to hide behind!”

            “Suits me fine, hero,” he replied. He fired a stinger at Agunimon, who kicked it out of the way with a Pyro Tornado before landing on a rooftop.

            Not going to catch him with my Human Spirit, he realized. “Slide Evolution! BurningGreymon!”

            While it was overkill, BurningGreymon’s form was exactly what he needed. With his wings, he was on more than level ground with FlyBeemon. FlyBeemon seemed to recognize the danger the Beast Spirit posed and shot lightning and another stinger from a distance.

            “That won’t work against me,” BurningGreymon said, activating the guns on his arms. “Pyro Barrage!”

            The flame bullets repeatedly hit FlyBeemon, who desperately tried to escape, but BurningGreymon wasn’t about to let that happen. He took chase, quickly catching up to his enemy. A burning tail-whip hit FlyBeemon from behind, forcing him to the ground. In midair, BurningGreymon reverted to his Human Spirit and dropped to the ground. The others had circled FlyBeemon to ensure he wouldn’t escape. But he couldn’t—his wings were burned right off his body. Agunimon waited for him to get up before approaching, all the while refusing to let anyone else attack. Maybe he still believed in a fair fight after all, he realized.

            “You got me, hero,” FlyBeemon pointed out. “What are you waiting for? Or are you too good to finish me off?”

            Without a word, Agunimon delivered the final blow—a single Pyro Punch with more power behind it than he usually put into it. When FlyBeemon’s Fractal Code appeared, he activated his D-tector and said, “You’re wrong. I stopped being a hero a long time ago. Fractal Code, digitize!”

            The flames died down sometime later, mostly due to the efforts of the townsfolk. Ophanimon’s Warriors watched everything from a distance, unwilling to destroy the town. True, it meant Lady Ophanimon would be annoyed with them, but they thought they could handle her disappointment. They’d come to a crossroads there, and they needed this reminder.

            “Come on, guys,” Takuya insisted. “Let’s go.”

            There was no turning back from the path they’d chosen.

 

I apologize for the long time it took to get this chapter out. Spring break and studies took a toll on me. The fight between Duskmon and Lobomon in the beginning of the chapter was written as a parody of “With Broken Wings,” the first Frontier fic I ever wrote (it’s old as dirt, purplish, and extremely complicated, but go ahead and check it out if you’re interested). The rest of the chapter was inspired by the Avatar episode “Zuko Alone,” although there are some bits of inspiration from Justice League Unlimited’s “Epilogue,” Ebon from Static Shock, and Digimon Savers. I blame Zuko and Masaru for Takuya’s characterization throughout this chapter.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Eighteen: “Defying Gravity”

            Everyone grinned as they looked outside the Trailmon’s windows to see the Rose Morning Star overhead. A few days ago, Koichi had pointed it out, saying that was their next destination. It had seemed so small and distant then, but now, it was big enough for them to see how it got its name.

            “You know, it does look like a star,” Teppei realized. “One that hasn’t completely formed—like in those space magazines.”

            “So what’s there that we need to find?” Katsuharu asked. He’d trusted in Koichi’s judgment the whole time, even when the other boy insisted on keeping the details a secret.

            “That’s where Cherubimon is,” he answered. “There’s a tower right underneath there. I’m positive that if we go there, he’ll come up with some way to help us save the others.”

            Teppei grinned. “Kind of nice having a god on our side.” Koichi grinned back in response.

            “What’s the area we’re heading toward?” Chiaki asked.

            “Yeah,” Teruo agreed. “The sky’s dark all over it.”

            “Well…” Koichi started, but he didn’t have the chance to finish. Trailmon suddenly stopped, forcing everyone to grab the railings tightly so they wouldn’t fall.

            “This is as far as I go,” Franken declared. “Everybody off.”

            The others were about to argue when Koichi answered, “All right. Thanks for taking us this far.”

            The others shared confused looks, but followed him off all the same. Wondering what could possibly cause such a reaction, Bokomon checked his book for anything regarding the Rose Morning Star or a landmass covered by a dark sky. He screamed in shock when he found it.

            “You can’t possibly be taking us there!” he cried to Koichi, who flinched.

            “It’s too late to go back now,” he insisted. “Trailmon just left.”

            “Okay, what’s going on?” Katsuharu asked.

            Bokomon pointed at the land they were supposed to go to. “That’s the Continent of Darkness! No one who’s ventured into it has ever come back out!”

            Koichi frowned. “I came out of it just fine.”

            Katsuharu raised an eyebrow and looked at him. “Explanation?”

            “This is why I didn’t want to tell any of you,” he confessed. “Cherubimon’s castle is right in the heart of the Continent of Darkness. But mention it to most Digimon, and they panic.”

            “Well, why?” Teruo asked. “I mean, it’s just another area of the Digital World, and it’s Cherubimon’s domain.”

            Koichi shrugged. “’Cause Digimon are superstitious and cowardly? I don’t know. I spent my first month in the Digital World on that continent. It’s safe, I promise.”

            “But you were under Cherubimon’s care the whole time!” Bokomon argued. “Nothing would dare attack him!”

            “I still had to come out of the tower to fight Arbormon and to find you guys,” he reminded them. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

            “But you’re the Warrior of Darkness,” Bokomon protested. “No one would attack you in your own element.”

            It was Teruo’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Then by that logic, wouldn’t we be safe traveling with Koichi if no one wants to challenge him there?” Bokomon sputtered in response.

            “Hold on,” Teppei interrupted. “Maybe we should at least see his side of the story. After all, he does have a point about Koichi’s side of the story being skewed. No offense.”

            “None taken,” Koichi answered.

            “Okay then,” Katsuharu agreed. “What’s the book say about this?”

            Bokomon pulled out his book and opened it to show everyone. The two-page section that should have been devoted to the Continent of Darkness was black. “Nothing, you see? No one knows anything about it because no one aside from Koichi has ever come back!”

            “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Chiaki pointed out. “After all, there is a war going on, and Cherubimon’s the only one who wants to protect the Digital World. The Continent of Darkness could be a refuge.”

            “We have to go there anyway,” Koichi insisted. “The last two Beast Spirits are there, and we need them if we’re going to fight Ophanimon’s Warriors.”

            “That does pretty much settle it,” Katsuharu pointed out. He turned to Koichi. “You’re the only one who knows what we’re walking into. Lead the way.”

            Koichi was startled for a second, but finally nodded. “So who’s coming?”

            “You need to ask?” Teppei asked as Teruo and Chiaki nodded. Neemon also nodded, leaving Bokomon as the only hesitant one. Koichi gave him a pleading look.

            “Oh, all right!” Bokomon finally agreed. “I’ll stay with you, even if it could be dangerous.”

            Koichi smiled. “You won’t regret it.” And with that, they walked through the Dark Gate and into the unknown.

            ~~~

            They supposed it was several hours later when they stopped to eat. Time really had no meaning when there was no difference between day and night. Though it was difficult to see, they were making their way through the forest in good time. This was mostly because of Koichi’s knowledge of the area, but the glowing green moss they found hadn’t hurt either, illuminating their path a bit. But now, it was time to eat and replenish their supplies before they hit the wastelands. Of course, that didn’t mean they were going to be silent about it.

            Teppei was still laughing over Bokomon’s fear of the Pipismon in the cave a kilometer back. The others were grinning, except for Bokomon, who was indignantly writing information on the bat-like Digimon in his book.

            “I told you it was all right,” Koichi insisted. “Most of the Digimon here are gentle. I’ve never had a problem with them.”

            “It was cute how the Pipismon repeated everything we said,” Chiaki said. “Though that long soliloquy was a bit much, Teppei.”

            Teppei bristled but didn’t argue, instead munching on another piece of fruit. Koichi winced. Katsuharu caught the wince and asked, “So, should we head out again?”

            “How long will it take to reach the Rose Morning Star?” Teruo asked.

            “More than a week at best,” Koichi admitted. “And that’s if we don’t get held up along the way.”

            “You mean by Ophanimon’s Warriors?” Katsuharu guessed. Koichi nodded. “All right then. Let’s go.”

            As always, Katsuharu was up at the front of the troupe, with Koichi next to him to lead the way. Teruo ran up closer, having picked up Katsuharu’s cue for them to talk privately.

            “So, what was that about?” Katsuharu asked in a low voice. “Teppei’s barely talking to Chiaki, and you look like you’re always about to break up a fight between them.”

            “You promise not to tell them?” Koichi checked. Both nodded. “Back in the village, it wasn’t me Teppei was mad at.”

            Katsuharu looked puzzled. They’d been to a few villages in the past few days, and Teppei hadn’t shown any indication in any of them that he was mad at Koichi. But then Teruo realized what he meant and blanched.

            “You mean Pride?” he asked. Koichi nodded.

            “What?” Katsuharu asked.

            “There were two people Teppei attacked when he was possessed by Pride,” Teruo explained. “One was Koichi.”

            “The other was Chiaki,” Koichi added.

            Katsuharu whistled. “So that’s why you’ve been on edge.”

            “Teppei never told her about it, as far as I can tell, so she has no idea that she’s making the problem worse by still teasing him,” Koichi said. “I’ve just got a bad feeling about this if it keeps up.”

            “My advice: don’t worry about it,” Katsuharu suggested. Koichi and Teruo stared at him in surprise. “Chiaki’s going to get it out of him eventually, and she’ll try to make things right.” Then he grimaced. “Of course, getting to that point isn’t going to be pretty. I hope something around here can cure a migraine, ‘cause we’re going to need a lot of it.”

            Unfortunately, this setup left Teppei and Chiaki in the back, in silence. And Teppei hated silence. He was about to do anything to break it up—mock Bokomon’s fear of the dark woods, trick Neemon into doing something stupid, annoy the trio in front—anything to put some buffer sound between him and Chiaki. But just as he was about to open his mouth, a sharp pain suddenly went through his head, and his D-tector started to flash and beep.

            “What is it?” Chiaki asked as Teppei started swearing under his breath.

            “Think it’s my Beast Spirit,” he muttered. “Lacking any sense of subtlety, as usual.”

            “Where is it?” Teruo asked.

            Teppei pulled out his D-tector. “To our right, whatever direction that is.”

            “How far off will this take us?” Katsuharu checked.

            Once the pain subsided a bit, Teppei answered, “Not too far, I don’t think, otherwise I wouldn’t feel like I’ve just been hit with a brick. Think we can make a detour so I can grab the stupid thing and get rid of my headache?”

            Katsuharu looked at Koichi, who replied, “It should be okay, if it’s not too far away. I just don’t want to get too far off-course. Otherwise, who knows how long it could take to get through here?”

            “Be sure to tell my Spirit that when we find it,” Teppei grumbled.

            About fifteen minutes and a burning forest later, they realized they really needed that Spirit.

            “Why’s there always a massive battle when we’re trying to find my Spirit?” Teppei shouted, digging through the ground to try and find the Spirit buried underneath. Vines burst out of the ground, nearly spearing him. “And will you watch where you’re aiming those things, Katsuharu?”

            “Hey, it’s either I make you a shield or you get burnt to a crisp, which is it going to be?” Petaldramon shot back.

            “Less talking, more hitting!” Calmaramon ordered.

            While Teppei kept trying to locate his Spirit, the others fought. Constantly switching back and forth between Spirits, Chiaki attacked Zephyrmon on all sides and tried to douse the burning trees. Petaldramon fended off both MetalKabuterimon and Korikakumon, and Mercurymon and Duskmon each fought their usual enemies’ Beast Spirits.

            Things were not going as well as they could have been. Not even counting the fire, the forest was a huge obstacle. Petaldramon’s vines made it difficult to maneuver for the ground-fighters, and the foliage made it difficult for the fliers. But even though Cherubimon’s Warriors had the advantage of terrain, Ophanimon’s Warriors outnumbered them and outclassed them in power and finesse. Their teamwork was as flawless as always, and whatever strategy they were using was working far better than what Cherubimon’s Warriors were forced to adopt. Duskmon was completely absorbed in fighting KendoGarurumon, and therefore no help to Petaldramon, who was trying to resist the electrical shots and axes thrown his way. Chiaki was equally obsessed with fighting Zephyrmon, after a bad loss days ago and far too many battles that had ended in a draw. Mercurymon, on the other hand, had to concentrate completely on BurningGreymon because of the massive difference in power between them. Teppei just hoped they’d hold on a little longer.

            “Come on, you stupid thing,” he muttered. “You want to fight just as much as I do.” Something glowed within the earth, and layers of rock were pushed up as the Beast Spirit rose. “Finally!”

            “Hurry it up,” Petaldramon insisted. “Don’t mean to rush you, but I’m getting killed here!”

            “Not a problem,” Teppei declared, allowing the Spirit to enter his D-tector. For a moment, he felt as though he was weighted down, but he pushed aside the thought. “Let’s go. Execute Beast Spirit Evolution!”

            The sudden burst of power was like an exploding volcano within him, but he was ready for it after hearing about Chiaki’s and Katsuharu’s experiences. He stood his ground, unflinching at the eruption. He’d already lost control with Pride; he wasn’t going to let his Spirit take control of him that easily. The more it tried to break him, crush him with its gravity, the more he leveled his stance.

            “No way you’re getting me that easy,” he challenged. “I’m more stubborn than that.”

            Finally, it settled to the point that he could handle it without feeling as though he would do the same damage as Katsuharu had. The Fractal Code disappeared around him, and Gigasmon joined the fight.

            “Glad to have your help,” Petaldramon grunted. “Mind taking J.P. while I fight Tommy? I can handle axes better than all that electricity.”

            “No problem,” Gigasmon answered.

            He slammed his fists into the ground with a shout of “Tectonic Slam!” and tore up the earth beneath MetalKabuterimon. Turned over on his side and unable to move, J.P. had no choice but to slide evolve, shooting into the air as Beetlemon. Gathering electricity into his horn, he prepared to slam right into Gigasmon. While Earth was resistant to Thunder, this powerful an attack could still at least bruise his tough skin. But Gigasmon smirked.

            “Not a chance,” he said, spinning with his fists outstretched. “Quagmire Twister!”

            The attack connected with Beetlemon, forcing him to lose control of his attack. The electricity went flying everywhere, accidentally striking enemies and allies alike. Teppei, too, had a momentary lapse in control, hitting Calmaramon in the side while both were spinning. She quickly switched to Ranamon’s form to catch herself before landing and glared at the now dizzy Gigasmon.

            “Watch it, twinkle-toes!” she yelled. “The enemy’s that way!” It took everything he had to simply bite his tongue and return to battle. Meanwhile, Petaldramon and Mercurymon fought the urge to palm their faces in annoyance.

            She leapt into the air and shifted once again to Calmaramon’s form. Spinning rapidly, she aimed for Zephyrmon, but the Warrior of Wind was ready for her. The wind picked up, spiraling toward Calmaramon to strike her with pink energy blades. It connected, halting her attack and slicing through her skin until she was unable to maintain the evolution. Her Fractal Code appeared, and before she had the chance to pull it back into herself, Zephyrmon snatched the Beast Spirit of Water and hit her with a parting shot of a single Plasma Pod. Chiaki had only a second to evolve to Ranamon before she went flying.

            Gigasmon looked around, momentarily at a loss for what to do. Petaldramon wouldn’t get there fast enough, and Mercurymon wasn’t able to get away from BurningGreymon. Duskmon had no interest in anything other than the fight. It was up to him to save her, so he ran with all the power he could summon, hoping to make it there before Zephyrmon, who was already flying overhead.

            Teppei had never been so thankful for the thick foliage. It slowed Zephyrmon down considerably, allowing him to find Chiaki faster. He stopped short when he saw her lying on the ground, devolved. It took all he had to get closer. Her breathing was shallow, and she whimpered when she tried to take in more air than that. She was also coughing up red-tinged fluid, and he didn’t like the look or sound of that.

            “Come on, Chiaki,” he said as gently as he could manage. “We need to get out of here.” He tried to slip his hands underneath her to pick her up, but it jarred her too much, making her cry out in pain and squeeze her eyes shut.

            “It hurts too much,” she gasped out.

            “Okay,” Gigasmon answered. “Okay, we’ll just have to try something different.” He looked around, trying to find something that could help. If he had some flat boards, he could at least support her back as he carried her out. But the best he would manage was knocking down a tree and splitting it lengthwise down the middle. And even that was too hard under these circumstances.

            “Zoë’s coming,” Chiaki reminded him. “She’ll want to finish this.”

            “I won’t let that happen, okay?” he assured her. “Now, hold tight ‘cause this might hurt.”

            He placed both hands on the ground and concentrated on manipulating the ground without tearing it to pieces. This was more difficult than he’d expected. It was easy to break something, but building it was another story. He reached deep within the Spirit for the power and control to finally create an earthen tent around Chiaki. He just hoped it was strong enough to stand up to Zephyrmon’s attacks.

            He sighed and sat down, leaning against his creation. “Well, I hope you’re happy now. You were worse than Koichi out there, and now Zoë’s out for blood.”

            Chiaki coughed up fluid and dust, crying out a bit before answering, “I know.” There was a pause, and then she added, “Thanks, Teppei. I know I don’t always treat you fairly, so you really had no reason to come.”

            Gigasmon stiffened for a minute before replying, “Look, Chiaki, I might have had problems with that when I was possessed by Pride, but that’s because I was too thick-headed to realize that it’s just teasing. Teruo said we were a family, and what family doesn’t have a brother and sister who pick on each other? At least, that’s what I’m assuming from Katsuharu’s family, since I don’t have any personal experience in the matter.” There was a small laugh that turned into labored breathing.

            “I’m still sorry if I hit any soft spots,” she added.

            “I know. It probably took me this long to realize it, but I know you don’t mean a thing by it.”

             A gust of wind came down from above, slicing off treetops. Gigasmon got to his feet, ready to fight. He started to move away from Chiaki’s sanctuary when he heard her ask, “Can you win?”

            He snorted. “You’re asking me? This is Earth versus Wind. I’ll show her what happens when someone ignores gravity.”

            The difficult thing about fighting a flier was that an attack could come from any side. The one thing Teppei had on his side was the knowledge that Zoë would attack Chiaki, so he kept as close to the earthen tent as possible without bringing Chiaki into the fight. Once he managed to find Zoë, he’d keep the battle as far away as he could manage. But right now, he had to wait for the opening attack, and that was the worst part.

            Bladed wind came from his far side, so he quickly slammed his fists into the ground to raise the earth in front of that wall. He’d expected this—it didn’t take a tactician to figure out that an attack would come from behind, where he wouldn’t be able to defend fast enough. The blades hit the stone, chipping some off and creating a cloud of dust that blew forward. Gigasmon slipped into it, taking advantage of the cover to attack. Zephyrmon only just saw him in time to dodge.

            “You know, Ophanimon must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel if that’s the best you can come up with,” he taunted. “Anyone could have seen that one coming. You’ll have to do better than that!”

            A Hurricane Gale came at him, and Zephyrmon responded, “You can’t fool me. I know you’re all talk.”

            “Not all talk,” he replied, spinning against the attack. The force he put behind it broke through the wind and let him slam into Zephyrmon before she could fly out of the way. “Never thought I’d be happier that you girls have almost no armor.” There were groans of disgust from both girls, and Teppei decided to just act like he’d intended the double meaning.

            “Quit flirting and start fighting, twinkle-toes,” Chiaki moaned from her sanctuary.

            Zephyrmon came at him with her Plasma Pods. Rather than running the risk of her attacking Chiaki if he dodged, Gigasmon stood his ground and hoped his body was strong enough to take the hit. It was a hard impact, and he felt himself being pressed back and down into the ground, but it was far better than he’d fare with his Human Spirit. Digging his heels into the earth to steady himself, he grabbed Zephyrmon’s wrists and threw her across the battlefield, smashing his fists into the ground as quickly as possible afterward. A growth of rock formed right in Zephyrmon’s path, too close for her to avoid. As she landed, he sent a wave through the earth to smash into her. She saw this one coming and flew up to avoid it.

            “What are you going to do now?” she mocked. “I’m too high for your attacks to work.”

            “Let’s see,” he challenged, creating a spire of earth before him. Then he started spinning, breaking off boulders as his fists hit. It took a great deal of control to keep the attacks near Zephyrmon and away from Chiaki, but the effort of dodging at least kept Zephyrmon too busy to attack.

            But finally, his spire had been broken to a stub on the ground, and Zephyrmon started to charge again. Gigasmon knew he needed to come up with something to throw her off, so he went with the first thing that came to mind:

            “You know, when this is all over, I’m pretty sure we could find some place to get some dinner.”

            Zephyrmon stopped in midair, blinked, and asked, “Are you asking me out?” There was a choking sound in the distance from Chiaki. Teppei wasn’t sure if it was from disbelief or laughter.

            “I know how much the odds are stacked against us,” he continued. “When does it ever work out when each is from a different side? But I think that, given time, our love could overcome all barriers.” There was more coughing, and he was reasonably sure it was laughter.

            “You…” Zephyrmon started, speechless in fury.

            “So what do you say?” he asked.

            There was really only one proper response: “Hurricane Gale!”

            Gigasmon held his ground through the attack and waited for her to come closer. When she did, he brought his fists together and hit her right across the abdomen, sending her flying once more. But this time, he just let the forest break her fall.

            “Oh well,” he said in feigned disappointment. “That’s amore.

            ~~~

            Chiaki sat up gingerly after Puttimon was done healing her wounds. It had been almost sheer luck that they’d been able to get a healer—Cherubimon had picked up the disturbance and called Koichi to ask what had happened and the four Warriors quickly mentioned Chiaki’s injuries. Though they had no idea how (and weren’t sure they wanted to know), Cherubimon had convinced a Trailmon Angler to take a Puttimon healer to them and transport them to the Rose Morning Star.

            “You’ll still be coughing for a while, and there’ll be some bruising, but you’re fine otherwise,” Puttimon declared.

            “Thanks,” she replied. Then, soberly, she added, “How bad was it?”

            “You don’t need to know,” Puttimon insisted. “But you’re lucky your friends got to you when they did.”

            She nodded and followed him out of the stone sanctuary. The others looked at her expectantly, and she smiled. “I’m sore, but other than that, I’ve got a clean bill of health.”

            “So you’re back to normal?” Teppei guessed.

            “Yep,” she replied.

            He gave her an appraising look, raised an eyebrow, and said, “Yeah. And here I was thinking you’d come out of it taller or something.”

            “What was that?”

            “You’re just as short as always.”

            “At least I’m not as short as you!”

            “Yeah, but I’m younger. I’m supposed to be shorter than you. You’ve got no excuse.”

            Koichi and Teruo palmed their faces in unison. Katsuharu, meanwhile, turned to Puttimon and asked, “Do you need a lift back to wherever you came from?”

            “No, I should probably start looking for other victims of the fight,” he answered. “The Digimon living here might have been hurt too.”

            “Good point,” Katsuharu agreed. Then, with a glance back at his friends, he added, “You wouldn’t happen to have something that cures headaches, do you? We need all we can get.”

 

The title comes from a song of the same title in Wicked. Thanks to Shaun Garin for help with the Teppei/Zoë battle. Although he suggested a Ty Lee/Sokka vibe from Avatar, I decided to lean more on Timon in Lion King 1 ½. Most of the rest of the fight came from Avatar earthbending, however. Don’t expect to see chapter 19 for a while yet, as it’s the end of the year and finals are starting.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Nineteen: “With Broken Wings”

            Cherubimon’s tower stood in the middle of a large chasm in the wasteland of the Continent of Darkness. Upon seeing it, the Warriors stopped in their tracks, staring at it in amazement. It had taken close to a week for them to finally reach it, and now they were struck by its magnificence. While Seraphimon’s castle had been beautiful and intimidating, it had only been a battlefield. This was the home of their mentor. In a way, it was their home too.

            Teppei voiced the one question no one thought to ask: “How do we get up there?”

            “You’re going to have to evolve,” Koichi replied, pointing out the floating rocks surrounding the tower. Although they were moving, they were arranged in an ascending order, so someone who had the ability could leap from stone to stone to reach the entrance level. “I’d join you, but…”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed. “Not the best idea bringing out Duskmon when there’s no fight.”

            Upon evolving, Arbormon took Bokomon and Neemon while Gigasmon carried Koichi piggyback style up the rocks. Ranamon made the trip more slowly and gently than either of them, still not quite recovered from her injuries against Zephyrmon. Mercurymon snapped his fingers to transport short distances from rock to rock, prompting Gigasmon to mutter, “Show-off.”

            Halfway up, Ranamon stopped to catch her breath. Mercurymon stopped right beside her and asked, “Are you okay?”

            “Yeah,” she assured. “I’ll be fine. Go on—I’ll catch up.”

            “Okay,” he agreed hesitantly, leaving for the next boulder.

            Gigasmon had just about reached the top when Koichi said, “There’s something you should know before you get up there. Watch out for—” But before he could finish his warning, he’d completely disappeared.

            The others had seen what happened and hurriedly joined Gigasmon at the entrance level of the tower. Bokomon and Neemon scurried away to safety as the four Warriors readied themselves for battle, keeping an eye out on all sides for whatever had gotten Koichi. The problem was that they had no idea what they were supposed to be looking for.

            There was a suspicious swishing sound like moving cloth very close to Ranamon, who jumped out of the way to avoid it. But there was nothing to be seen. She stood on guard, breathing heavily. Another swishing cloth noise came from behind her, but a missile from Arbormon kept whatever it was from attacking her. They looked where the missile should have hit and saw two Digimon in red cloaks, each holding an eyeball-shaped crystal around his neck.

            Bokomon cried in shock and shouted, “Be careful! Those are Phantomon! If they catch you, they’ll seal you in the dimension within their crystals!”

            “So that’s what you did to Koichi,” Mercurymon realized.

            “Prepare for the harvest…” one Phantomon started.

            “Of your souls!” the other finished.

            It was clearly meant to intimidate the four Warriors, but they had faced countless dangers: Ophanimon’s Warriors, Seraphimon, the Beast Spirits, the Great Demon Lords, and many other enemies. This had the exact opposite effect.

            “Could these guys get any more cliché?” Gigasmon groaned. Then, noticing that Mercurymon was giving him a deadpan stare, he amended, “Well, barring him.”

            “Let’s just get this over with already,” Arbormon insisted, getting into a fighting stance.

            “They’re holding Koichi hostage,” Ranamon reminded them. “We need to get him out of there first.”

            Scythes came at them, but Mercurymon was fast to block, warning the others, “Don’t let them get behind you!”

            Gigasmon ducked out of the way of a cloak and yelled, “Easy for you to say! I’m punching air here!”

            “This arguing isn’t getting us anywhere!” Ranamon declared. “Let’s fight the Phantomon instead of each other!”

            Gigasmon was about to make a retort when he caught a glimpse of red. “Look out!”

            She barely had time to react before Arbormon’s limbs connected with the Phantomon, sending him flying. She breathed a sigh of relief and called out, “Thanks.”

            “No problem,” he assured, staying close so he could watch her back. “I think I cracked that guy’s crystal when I hit him. Hopefully, smashing the one Koichi’s in will free him.”

            “But what if it doesn’t?” Mercurymon asked, coming over with Gigasmon. “What if it traps him?”

            “Then we beat up these guys until they tell us how to get him out,” Gigasmon affirmed.

            “And if it doesn’t work?” Mercurymon persisted.

            “No, I think Katsuharu and Teppei are right,” Bokomon piped up from his hiding place. “According to the book, breaking the crystals should release their prisoners.”

            “Sounds good to me, then,” Arbormon decided, and the others nodded.

            Without anyone saying a thing, they’d decided that Gigasmon would be the bait. The Phantomon had already seen Ranamon’s agility and Mercurymon’s speed, not to mention Arbormon’s ability to detach his limbs to fight from a small distance away. All they’d seen from Gigasmon was his strength, so they’d underestimate his speed. And if there was one thing Teppei was good at above all, it was getting people to underestimate him.

            The others kept up their fighting against whatever appeared, knocking away scythes and dodging cloaks while Gigasmon slowed down his attacks to get the Phantomon to lower their guard. As they’d predicted, the Phantomon abandoned their quicker opponents and headed straight toward him. When two scythes came right at him, Gigasmon put the rest of their disorganized plan into action. He grabbed the chains and started spinning, bringing the Phantomon in the twister with him. One Phantomon let go of his scythe, flying right into Ranamon, who threw him to the ground when she realized that his crystal was already cracked.

            “Teppei, it’s the other one!” she warned.

            Hearing this, he abruptly stopped spinning and placed out a fist. The Phantomon was still being dragged along, and so crashed right into the stone-hard fist. With that force, the crystal broke immediately. Koichi reappeared out of thin air and, to everyone’s surprise, palmed his forehead in disbelief.

            “That’s the third time now,” he muttered.

            “What?” Mercurymon asked in confusion.

            “Chiaki, Teppei, you can let them go,” Koichi insisted. “They’re harmless.”

            “You call capturing you in another dimension harmless?” Ranamon asked in disbelief, but even so, she and Gigasmon let the gatekeepers go.

            Koichi sighed. “They’re idiots and they’re bored. This is their idea of a prank.”

            The others devolved as Bokomon and Neemon came over. Teppei looked at the Phantomon he’d attacked and muttered, “That’s just sad.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi agreed, walking toward the gate. “Come on.”

            The others gave each other confused looks, and Teppei even shrugged. But all the same, they followed him inside, and the doors closed behind them. Beyond the gate was a long staircase, spiraling alongside the tower walls. They took their time climbing, periodically stopping to rest aching feet or to catch their breath. On one such pause, Katsuharu asked Koichi, “So what was all that about back there?”

            He sighed again. “When I first came here, I got lost a lot. By the time I found my way to the outside, those two had just heard that there was a new guy here—a human. They thought they’d have an easier time hazing me than the other Warriors.”

            Katsuharu winced. “So did they?”

            “They got me twice before I figured out that I just needed to clear my mind and react quickly,” Koichi admitted. “The next two times, I was able to fight back. This was the third time I’ve fallen for it.”

            Chiaki sat down, too tired to keep walking. The staircase was too long for her fatigue. Maybe if she’d evolved, she could make it up there easier, but not right now. In any case, she didn’t want to waste her energy on evolution, especially after she’d just evolved and fought a pointless battle. All around her, everyone else followed her example and took a seat against the wall, where there was no danger of falling off the edge of the stairs. They looked almost as worn out as she was, so she asked, “Anyone else feel like just falling asleep here?”

            “Sorry, can’t answer, already napping,” Teppei replied.

            “So, Koichi, do you have any idea what’s waiting for us?” Teruo asked.

            He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know if Cherubimon knows anything about Ophanimon’s Warriors beyond that Koji’s my brother. But he has to know a way we can save them.”

            Hearing the desperation in his friend’s voice, Teruo agreed, “Yeah. Ophanimon was his friend, so he’ll probably know a weakness or a habit that we don’t. He might even know what illusions we have to break in the others and how we’re supposed to do that.” He offered a confident grin to Koichi, who looked surprised for a moment before finally smiling himself.

            “Yeah,” he agreed.

            An explosion suddenly rocked the tower, and one of the walls above them was knocked out, littering the staircase with rubble and filling the air with dust. Everyone had covered their heads when the bricks went flying, so when the immediate danger passed, they raced upstairs to see what had happened. Fatigue and soreness were completely forgotten—the war had found them again.

            Fortunately for them, the stairs were sturdy and had survived the blast. They kicked away bricks and stone and stared outside the new window as Ophanimon’s Warriors battled the Phantomon. Put lightly, the battle was not going well for the gatekeepers.

            “Can they get in here?” Katsuharu asked.

            “I think the tower is shielded so that the only entrance is through the gate,” Bokomon deduced. “Even so, the Phantomon aren’t going to be able to hold out much longer, especially now that their crystals were destroyed.”

            “I have to go help them,” Koichi insisted, and everyone looked at him. “They’re idiots, but I can’t leave them to die like this.”

            “We’ll all go,” Chiaki said, but Koichi shook his head.

            “It has to be me alone,” he protested. “Just wait here for me. Don’t go anywhere past this staircase.”

            “What exactly are you planning?” Katsuharu asked suspiciously.

            Koichi took one look at his friends and their worried expressions. They didn’t want him to fight this battle alone, especially since they had an inclination of what he might do, even if he hadn’t decided on it just yet. Because of that, he promised himself to keep it in reserve as long as he could. Duskmon was strong. He could probably stand up to five Beast Spirits. So long as he cleared his mind and reacted quickly, he should be fine.

            “I’ll be okay, I promise,” he assured before taking out his D-tector and jumping from the staircase. He evolved before hitting the ground and burst out of the gate. The battle was officially on.

            By the time Duskmon was outside, the Phantomon were dead. It hadn’t been anything near a fair fight for them, what with being surrounded by five Beast Spirits and having lost their greatest advantage. Koichi burned with anger. As much as they had annoyed him with their hazing, they didn’t deserve this. He took a deep breath and extended his swords, letting go of all thoughts. He needed clarity for this.

            Seeing him, KendoGarurumon shifted forms to Lobomon and activated his own swords. Without a word, the two swordsmen charged each other. When their swords hit, Lobomon found himself on the defensive very quickly. It was typical for their fights, but this time, he felt himself being pushed back farther and harder.

            “You’ve improved,” he noticed.

            Duskmon didn’t answer. He’d already noticed the trap. The other four had surrounded him and started firing. Rather than run the risk of falling into another trap by trying to escape, he absorbed the attacks, much to the surprise of all five. But Koji’s surprise only lasted a fraction of a moment, and he took advantage of Duskmon’s brief pause and brought his swords up and around to strike his sides. Then, leaping backward, he fired his laser.

            Duskmon dodged this attack, but at that moment, the others had resumed their assault. A firestorm encircled him, and it was quickly fueled by bladed wind. Axes and lightning blasts came at him from two sides, and he jumped to dodge them. But as he escaped the column of flames, he ran straight into BurningGreymon. Seeing the coming attack, he raised his swords to block, this time luring them into his own trap. As expected, he was sent flying by a burning tail-whip, but once he’d reached a good distance, he initiated his Lunar Plasma attack.

            “What do we do now?” Zephyrmon asked BurningGreymon, half in panic.

            “No idea,” he confessed. “Koji, any ideas?”

            “Just one,” Lobomon admitted. “Attack and hope we don’t die.”

            “Best I’ve got too,” BurningGreymon agreed.

            Lobomon shifted back to his Beast Spirit form as all five commenced their attack. Lasers, fire-bullets, icy winds, and electricity hit the red moon formation, to no visible effect. But they were too cautious to go any closer, so they held off in wait for Duskmon. It was possibly the longest wait of their lives. It couldn’t have been more than a minute, but it certainly didn’t feel that way.

            “He’s breaking out!” Zephyrmon noticed finally.

            “Let him have it!” BurningGreymon ordered.

            A barrage of attacks hit Duskmon as he flew out of the sphere, but he had his swords crossed before him to shield himself. He impacted with BurningGreymon first, cutting right through his armor and throwing him to the ground before leaping off to attack a new victim. Zephyrmon barely had the chance to cry out Takuya’s name before a Deadly Gaze hit her from above. Without a second thought, MetalKabuterimon switched evolutions so he could fly up and catch her before she fell.

            “Are you okay?” he checked.

            “Look out!” she cried.

            Beetlemon wouldn’t have been able to fly out of the way of Duskmon’s next attack. Luckily for him, KendoGarurumon managed to get enough height in a jump to strike Duskmon with one of his blades. The distraction was just what Ophanimon’s Warriors to gather their wits again and attack.

            As Duskmon landed, Beetlemon tried to bring down a Thunder Fist from above, but he quickly moved behind Beetlemon too fast for anyone’s eyes to follow. He brought his sword down, slicing down Beetlemon’s forewings. At that very moment, Korikakumon and BurningGreymon tried to attack from either side. Duskmon didn’t even move in response—he simply fired blasts from the eyes on his shoulders, throwing both of them back. Trying to take advantage of the situation, KendoGarurumon reverted to Lobomon’s form and attached his swords together as a staff, intending to attack Duskmon from behind. But Duskmon half-turned, keeping one sword trained on the prone Beetlemon while the other was pointing directly at Lobomon. Lobomon tried not to breathe too hard, feeling the tip right against his neck. Everyone froze. Any movement could make him kill one of the two.

            There seemed to be no way out of this. It was worse than the times they’d seen Duskmon lose control. This time, he knew exactly what he was doing and he was serious. They’d finally pushed him over the edge. Koji tried to think of anything that could help. He was reasonably sure that Duskmon would leave Beetlemon alone, since he’d always been obsessed with fighting Koji. If he could just get Duskmon’s attention trained on him alone, Beetlemon would have the chance to escape and the others could attack. But there was the matter of the sword tip against his throat, severely limiting his actions. He couldn’t help but think of the last time he’d been in this situation, when Duskmon scanned his memories. The memory made him glower—about the only safe thing he could do. He didn’t realize that his eyes were glowing until his vision momentarily went out: Duskmon suddenly looked right at him, then there was darkness, and then Duskmon was thrown back somewhat from a laser blast. It gave Beetlemon a chance to escape and Lobomon a chance to counterattack with his double-bladed staff.

            “Since when could you shoot lasers out of your eyes?” BurningGreymon asked when Lobomon pulled back for another attack.

            He shrugged and fired the lasers once again. The momentary blindness was a bit of a liability, but he couldn’t argue that the new attack hadn’t come in handy. “Irony of ironies.”

            Beetlemon took the opportunity to return to the form of MetalKabuterimon, and everyone took their places in a circle surrounding Duskmon. Rather than firing all at once and risk him absorbing their attacks, they fired in rapid succession. He was forced to block attacks with his swords or dodge if he could. Each time he tried to leap into the air, BurningGreymon or Zephyrmon was there to shoot him right back down again. Lasers, wind-blades, and arrowheads were easy enough to manage; firestorms and lightning spheres were another thing entirely. It was difficult to avoid them, though Ophanimon’s Warriors positioned themselves so they could better avoid the larger, more devastating attacks. And absorbing the attacks was out of the question because the attacks were fired one right after another; if he absorbed one or two attacks, another was sure to follow soon after. He was trapped.

            I still have one thing left, Koichi remembered, readying to fire a Deadly Gaze.

            All of the eyes on Duskmon’s body started to glow red, and Lobomon shouted, “Now!”

            Taking advantage of the momentary blindness the lasers caused, all five Warriors attacked the eyes: Korikakumon and Zephyrmon to one side, Lobomon and MetalKabuterimon to the other, and BurningGreymon to the front. When it was over, Duskmon dropped to the ground in excruciating pain, barely able to maintain the evolution. That was it. There was nothing else he could do. He was partially blind, unable to watch for enemies from the side or from behind, and his Deadly Gaze was burnt out too.

            I don’t have a choice, Koichi realized. Someone came in closer to attack again, and he raised his swords to block. It seemed that Ophanimon’s Warriors would just take their time finishing him off, now that he wasn’t a threat anymore. There really was only one option left, as much as Koichi hated to admit it.

            I controlled this just fine, he mentally insisted. It took months, but I got this far. Everyone else controlled their Beast Spirits easily enough after a while, and they never had this problem with their Human Spirits. It can’t be that bad. I’ll control it.

            And with that thought, the chains on the Beast Spirit broke completely. Dark Fractal Code surrounded Duskmon, and everyone stepped back, hearing the cry of “Slide Evolution!” They couldn’t, however, hear the mental cries of agony as Koichi fought a losing battle against the Spirit. Darkness was all around him, and the more he tried to fight it, the worse it got. Finally, he fell, completely unable to fight as the shadows overtook his heart and mind entirely. It was the monster, not the child, who shouted out the name “Velgemon!”

            Though they had backed up in alarm at the evolution, Ophanimon’s Warriors were knocked aside as Velgemon took flight. Covered in black feathers and dull red skeletal armor, he was frightening to behold. Even Takuya felt his legendary courage drop. How could they fight something—for he certainly wasn’t a someone in this state—that appeared to be death itself?

            The evolution did not go unnoticed by anyone in the tower. As his Warriors stared in shock from the staircase, Cherubimon sensed the sudden explosion of darkness and shook his head sadly. He’d hoped his apprentices would avoid this. The corrupted Beast Spirit of Darkness was far too powerful for Koichi to handle, and it was strong enough to even be a serious threat to Cherubimon himself. For Koichi’s sake, it was time to do what Cherubimon should have long ago. He just hoped that the rest of his apprentices would be able to save their friend.

            On the staircase, the others watched in stunned silence at Velgemon’s flight. Even though they were hidden in the tower, Bokomon and Neemon hugged each other in terror, feeling that nowhere was safe with a Digimon like this in existence. Chiaki tried to find words and failed while Teppei just managed to say, “That would be so cool if it wasn’t about to kill us…”

            Katsuharu threw a fist into the remaining wall in disgust, muttering, “I told him not to do it. I told him.” Teruo looked from Katsuharu’s grief to the battle, unsure of what to do.

            And even within Velgemon, there was another side of the story to be told. With Koichi’s loss to the Spirit’s raw power, his mind was broken and his memories fragmented. The instinct to kill was strong in him, yet he paused momentarily above the Warriors, who were still frozen in terror. There was something about his prey that he was supposed to remember, but nothing specific could come to mind. There were plenty of emotions, however, and those increased the urge to kill. Something about Lobomon brought back pain and rage.

            “Koji…” he said, barely remembering. The Warriors looked at each other, then at Lobomon, startled. “Light…painful…destroy?”

            “Really starting to think we should go now,” BurningGreymon decided, and everyone started to run in agreement. Of course, at that point, Velgemon had reached his own decision and attacked.

            A beam of energy shot out of his third eye, hitting Lobomon in the back as he ran. The beam broke through his armor, burning his back. He shouted, just maintaining the clarity of mind to switch evolutions. The added power of the Beast Spirit lessened the pain for the time being, long enough for him to escape at least.

            “You okay?” BurningGreymon checked. But before KendoGarurumon could answer, another beam fired. They jumped away from each other, narrowly missing it.

            “I will be once we’re out of this guy’s range,” he replied.

            “Why’s he only attacking you?” Korikakumon asked.

            “Yeah, what’d you do to tick him off?” MetalKabuterimon agreed.

            “How am I supposed to know?” KendoGarurumon bit back.

            They were so caught up in their argument that they didn’t notice Velgemon had caught up with them. Zephyrmon was the first to see him coming up alongside her, and she attacked. But to her horror, the bladed winds did nothing to deter him—he continued on, cutting a circle into the earth around them with one wing. They all came to a halt as he ascended again, his third eye glowing.

            “What’s going on?” KendoGarurumon asked. He got his answer soon enough—dark walls started to rise from two sides of the circle.

            “I don’t like the looks of this,” Zephyrmon murmured.

            “Let’s move!” BurningGreymon ordered.

            BurningGreymon and Zephyrmon quickly flew high above the ring, and Beetlemon joined them as soon as he changed evolutions. Korikakumon also switched back to his Human Spirit and held on tightly to KendoGarurumon as he sped out of the circle. The walls nearly closed on them, but KendoGarurumon leapt out just in time. Then, rejoining their friends, they watched in horrified fascination as the dome closed and detonated on itself.

            “There’s nothing left…” Zephyrmon whispered in shock as the dome disappeared. There was a large depression in the ground, as if something had exploded and the walls had contained the blast.

            “He can’t be that powerful…” BurningGreymon denied.

            But then Velgemon saw them, and they decided it was time to run again before he had the chance to prove BurningGreymon wrong. There didn’t seem to be anywhere they could go. They’d already returned to level ground away from the tower, and there was a narrow canyon cutting off their retreat. While it would be difficult for Velgemon to follow them through it, he would easily be able to attack them from above. The only remotely safe route was above the canyon.

            “I’ll go up first,” Zephyrmon volunteered. “I’m the fastest flyer.”

            “Yeah,” BurningGreymon agreed.

            “Hey, Zee, be careful,” Beetlemon warned, and she nodded in response. Her nerves were completely shot. They’d never faced an enemy this powerful before. She didn’t know how this was going to turn out.

            The top of the canyon looked smooth enough to run on, and she was about to shout to Takuya and J.P. to help Koji and Tommy up when Velgemon appeared again. Knowing her Hurricane Gale was useless, she decided to risk her Plasma Pods, hoping they’d at least give him some pain. But it was a dangerous risk—when she flew close enough to him, an energy beam shot from his third eye into her left wing. Screaming and unable to fly, she plummeted toward the ground.

            “Zoë!” Beetlemon shouted as he and BurningGreymon flew to her aid.

            Somewhere in the haze of pain, she remembered that she needed to get back in the air or else fall to her death. Shifting to Kazemon helped the pain somewhat—the insectoid wings had no nerves, so she could fly. But her left arm and a good part of her back were in agony, and she couldn’t move them. Unable to do anything else, she joined the others on the ground to provide some support fire while Beetlemon and BurningGreymon fought.

            Lightning bolts shot down from the sky onto Velgemon’s wings, trying to bring him down to earth and kill his advantage. As Beetlemon kept up the electrical assault, BurningGreymon unleashed a Wildfire Tsunami. He smirked at the distinct smell of burnt feathers as Velgemon was trapped in the storm of lightning and fire. Just when he started to think that they were going to win, Velgemon threw his wings up. Beetlemon and BurningGreymon quickly moved back to avoid getting hit by their own attacks while Velgemon soared higher into the air.

            “This is not good,” Beetlemon noticed.

            It was a gross understatement. Velgemon suddenly swooped down, hitting both of them with his wings with too much force for either to recover. When they hit the ground, he started carving a circle around them. They recovered quickly enough to get away before it closed on them, but the resulting blast was still able to throw them several feet through the air. They quickly rejoined the others and headed for open ground. If they were going to fight, this was the only real option they had left.

            Cherubimon’s remaining Warriors stared in horror at the carnage. In a shaky voice, Chiaki asked, “He’s really going to kill them, isn’t he?” When no one answered, she asked, “What do we do? We can’t just let him do this!”

            “None of us stand a chance against him,” Teppei pointed out. “If we went out there, and if by some miracle, Ophanimon’s Warriors agreed to work with us, we’d still be slaughtered. Duskmon was easily twice as powerful as any one of us in our Beast Spirits. Velgemon’s got to be at least twice as powerful as that.

            “We can’t leave him,” Chiaki insisted.

            Still not turning away from the wall, Katsuharu admitted, “We might not have any other choice. I hate saying it, but he’s just too powerful for us to handle. If he showed any ounce of control, I’d run out there in a heartbeat, but that’s not the case here. Our best option is to just see what Cherubimon has to say. He might know something, or maybe we’ll get lucky and Koichi will run out of energy and devolve before he can kill anyone. I’d rather fight off the others, trying to defend him, than try fighting him.”

            Teruo had been silent the whole time, trying to figure out his chances. While he wasn’t sure he could win, he was sure he could at least keep Velgemon too busy to continue attacking Ophanimon’s Warriors. He could at least buy everyone some time.

            “I’ll fight,” he volunteered finally. Everyone stared at him.

            “Are you crazy?” Teppei exclaimed. “What part of ‘out of control’ and ‘we’ll be slaughtered’ don’t you get?”

            “Teruo, your armor’s good, but it’s not going to protect you enough,” Katsuharu warned. “Without a Beast Spirit, you’ll be killed.”

            “I did just fine against Seraphimon without a Beast Spirit!” he cried, and everyone blinked at his sudden claim of victory. How often had he insisted that it had only been an accident?

            “Teruo…” Chiaki started.

            “No, I know you all think I’ve lost it, but I think I stand a chance,” he insisted. “I think—no, I know that I’m the only one who can do it. Remember, I can reflect attacks. That’s how I defeated Seraphimon—we weren’t strong enough to defeat him, but his own power was too much for him. I’m sure it’s the same case with Koichi. He was never that good at defense anyway. I’ve fought him twice before. I know. I nearly beat him the second time.” He neglected to mention that it was because he was possessed by Envy at the time, but no one called him on it.

            “I’m afraid Teruo may be right,” Bokomon confessed. “Koichi himself may be the only one who can defeat him. And Teruo is the fastest of all of you and can escape those domes.”

            “I’ll try and buy you some time,” Teruo promised. “Just get to Cherubimon and tell him what happened. By then, Koichi should be weakened enough that conventional attacks can take him down.”

            “And if not?” Katsuharu pressed.

            Teruo lowered his head slightly. “Then at least, I’ll have kept him from destroying any more of the Digital World.”

            “I don’t get it,” Neemon confessed quietly to Bokomon. “What’s he saying?”

            “I’m afraid Teruo is sacrificing himself,” Bokomon replied.

            Teruo didn’t confirm it, but everything in his stance said it was true. Chiaki gave him a tight, tearful hug, and Katsuharu and Teppei tried to show their support too—a hand on the shoulder, a hand on the back. They could feel him steeling himself, taking deep breaths to strengthen his resolve. But then, finally, it was time to let go. He stood on the edge of the staircase, holding his D-tector, just as Koichi had. Unlike Koichi, he didn’t make any promises. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep them, after all.

            He jumped, and there was a flash of light as he evolved. Strengthening their own resolves, the remaining five raced up the staircase toward the heart of Cherubimon’s headquarters, hoping they wouldn’t be too late.

Pure adrenaline here—I hope no one is disappointed. With all the action going on, this chapter may have been the single hardest to write in all of “Yang-Yin.” This chapter was pretty heavily influenced by “Whisper” by Evanescence, which I played on repeat throughout. Another major source of inspiration was the Justice League Unlimited finale “Destroyer.” And I confess to borrowing a line from Ron Stoppable in Kim Possible for Teppei.

Expect chapter twenty a bit later than usual—I first want to get out another chapter of “Survival Diaries” before this.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty: “Panic in the Sky”

            Katsuharu and the others raced upstairs, ignoring stitches in their sides and shortness of breath. Though he and Teppei were farther ahead of Chiaki and the Digimon, those trailing behind were desperate not to be left behind. It was a race to find Cherubimon, to save Teruo and Koichi. They couldn’t afford to be slow.

            But as they reached the end of the staircase, they found themselves in an enormous labyrinth with no sense of up, down, or sideways.

            “Which way?” Teppei asked.

            “How the hell am I supposed to know?” Katsuharu snapped.

            “Just pick something!” Chiaki shouted.

            Katsuharu barely hesitated before deciding, “Straight ahead.”

            They’d hardly gone anywhere when they came across floating flat screens of Fractal Code. They were about to ignore them when shadowy hands reached out for them. One grabbed Chiaki, who managed to break its thumb before pulling herself free. Another reached for Teppei, who ducked and knocked the arm away.

            “Okay, this? Not good,” he breathed.

            “No kidding,” Katsuharu agreed. He tried to run, but hands reached for him, tearing his clothes and skin as he tried to escape. “Damn, it looks like we have to fight.”

            Chiaki gave out an exasperated battle cry as she blocked a coming hand and viciously pushed it away. “We don’t have time for this!”

            “Teruo’s just going to have to wait until we can find our way out of here,” Teppei realized. “There are way too many of these guys!”

            Katsuharu swore and muttered, “Just hang on as long as you can, guys.”

            Meanwhile, Mercurymon stood at entrance of the tower and stared in horror at the destruction in front of him. While the battle with Velgemon was far enough away that the others in the tower had never been in any danger, now Teruo was having second thoughts about his ability to stop Koichi. The earth was scorched from energy beams, and a large crater lay in his path. All this had been visible from the tower, but there was a difference between seeing it from that safe shelter and seeing it from here.

            “What am I doing?” he whispered. “I don’t have a chance. I’m going to die.”

            He could barely believe it himself, but he was going to run back inside, run upstairs, find the others, and get Cherubimon’s help. He’d never felt this afraid before, not even against Seraphimon. But this was a power like nothing he’d ever seen before. It was terrifying.

            He was about to go back inside when he heard Velgemon roar. The way it echoed in the empty wastes was chilling. It didn’t quite sound like a roar; Teruo couldn’t place what exactly it sounded like. But the sound, whatever it was, changed his mind. He turned and ran into the breach.

            ~~~

            The battle was not going well at all. Velgemon shrugged off a combination of Hurricane Wave, Lightning Blitz, and Wildfire Tsunami and dive-bombed Ophanimon’s Warriors with another blast from his third eye. His attacks were getting more organized, and it was clear that he was out for Koji’s blood, so the team was torn between two strategies: Koji’s half-baked plan to try and sacrifice himself on the off-chance that Velgemon would lay off attacking his friends, and Takuya’s insistence on protecting Koji and fighting back as a team. Right now, the fight was four-on-one-on-one, and it wasn’t pretty.

            Velgemon roared once more and shouted, “Dark Vortex!” The previously unnamed eye beam fired directly at KendoGarurumon, and no one could reach him in time. To make matters worse, he couldn’t find an exit. He braced himself for the impact, only to feel a steel body hit him and throw him back several feet.

            “Mercurymon?” KendoGarurumon asked in shock. “What are you doing here?”

            “Saving your life, that’s what,” Teruo snapped. He was in no mood to deal with this. “Get out of here. I can handle this.”

            “Are you crazy?” BurningGreymon asked, unleashing another useless attack in Velgemon’s direction. “Five Beast Spirits are losing to this guy, and you think you can do this alone with just a Human Spirit?” He knew that later Koji would rib him for using his own logic about Duskmon, but he couldn’t be bothered with that now. As much as he hated Teruo, he couldn’t let the kid get killed here.

            “I think my friends have already established that I’m out of my mind, thanks,” Mercurymon replied, reflecting a blast that just clipped Velgemon’s wing. There was a roar of pain before he started to retaliate. “But as you can see, I’m the only one who can actually hurt him.”

            “He does have a point,” Beetlemon pointed out.

            “What do you plan to do?” KendoGarurumon asked.

            “Piss him off, reflect his attacks, and hope for the best,” Mercurymon answered. “Not the best plan, but that’s all I have.” The five Warriors gave him incredulous looks. “Look, do you want to live or not?”

            “He’s right,” Kazemon admitted. “We can’t fight anymore. We need to get out of here.”

            “Fine,” BurningGreymon surrendered. “Teruo…”

            “I know,” he answered. “I can’t promise anything, but I’m going to try and keep alive. I can’t exactly save my best friend if I’m dead.”

            “All right,” BurningGreymon replied. “Let’s move!”

            “Just a second!” Mercurymon interrupted. “Koji, I need to keep him from coming after you. Can you fire an attack into my shield so I can distract him? Otherwise, he won’t stop coming after you.”

            KendoGarurumon didn’t argue. Mercurymon absorbed the Lupine Laser in one shield and held onto it as long as possible so the five Warriors could run for it. When Velgemon started to follow them, Mercurymon reflected the attack right at the back of his head.

            “No way, Koichi,” he yelled. “Your fight’s with me this time!”

            Velgemon roared and swooped down, knocking Mercurymon off his feet before beginning to chase Ophanimon’s Warriors again. With a grunt, Mercurymon got back up and hurled a shield at his head. It connected with his eye, and he roared with pain. This was an insult he could not forgive. Without hesitation, he turned his attention to the Warrior of Steel, who caught his shield on his arm and stared back in determination. There was something buried in Velgemon’s memory that suddenly burst to the surface, faster than his fragmented memories of Koji had.

            “Teruo…” he remembered. “Hatred… Envy…”

            Still braced for an impact that never came, Mercurymon shot him a confused glance. However, the word “envy” quickly clued him in on what Koichi was debating.

            “Yes,” he reasoned. “I was Envy that time, and I’m sorry for everything I said and did. But I promise, I don’t hate you. I’m fighting you right now because I’m your friend, and I don’t know how else to help you.”

            “Friend?” The voice that asked this was the same strange, almost strangled sound that Teruo had heard before, when he changed his mind about running away. With a start, he realized Velgemon wasn’t roaring; Koichi was crying.

            “Yes,” Mercurymon insisted, lowering his shield. “I’m your friend, and so are Katsuharu, Teppei, Chiaki, Bokomon, and Neemon. You remember them, right? They’re trying to help you right now—they’re trying to get Cherubimon to help. But if you devolve, we won’t have to worry about that, and I promise I won’t leave you alone out here.”

            It was the wrong choice of words. There were far too many instances of loneliness in Koichi’s broken memory. The power of the Spirit only made it worse. It was simply easier for Velgemon to choose to be alone than to deal with the sadness and darkness that had come with involuntary loneliness, and so he attacked Teruo, who by now was completely off-guard. Mercurymon was thrown to the ground again, giving Velgemon time to start drawing a circle in the ground around him.

            “No more talking!” he ordered—the first full sentence he’d spoken. When the circle was complete, he flew above it and shouted, “Dark Obliteration!”

            Teruo wasn’t sure why Velgemon’s speech was becoming clearer and his thought patterns more lucid, but he didn’t have time to think about it. As the walls rose around him, he ripped off one of his shields and threw it outside the perimeter. He just managed to teleport out before the dome was complete. There was a faint red glow as the attack did its work. Mercurymon braced himself for the inevitable explosion, but it never came. When he turned, there was no crater marking where the dome had been. There was nothing at all—the attack was controlled enough to eat through everything underneath it and only what was underneath.

            “He couldn’t…” he denied. “How did he get that powerful all of a sudden?” He glanced up at Velgemon, who was circling overhead. “The longer you’re in that form, the saner you get; but Koichi, what’s it doing to you?”

            His only response was another crying roar. Realizing that he could not hope to get through to his friend, he ripped off his other shield and threw it in the air, followed soon by the one he’d left on the ground. He teleported through to the farther one, reached back, and hurled the one behind at Velgemon before following it up with the other. The hard steel smacked Velgemon right underneath his beak, then in the wing. Angered, he fired his Dark Vortex, but Mercurymon was ready with his shields, reflecting it right back at him. The blast hit him in the chest, and he shouted in agony. Mercurymon tried not to let it bother him, however, and teleported over to hit him in the third eye. As he reeled back from the blow, Velgemon flapped his wings, sending Mercurymon hurtling to the ground. He landed on his back, feeling his central mirror break. There was also a crack in the mirror concealing his face. With a groan, he sat up and checked his shields; mercifully, they had survived. He just wasn’t sure how long he could.

            Velgemon was flying toward the tower. Mercurymon teleported in rapid flashes, trying to cut him off, but he just couldn’t manage the speed. Velgemon knew who were in the tower, and he was determined to kill them to make his suffering end—Now, there’s logic for you, Teruo thought cynically as the first Dark Vortex hit the tower. While the explosion that ensued did cause some damage, it was largely superficial and only shook things up a little. It was nowhere near enough to destroy it.

            “It’s going to take a lot more than that to get rid of us, Koichi, you know that!” Mercurymon shouted.

            Unfortunately, Velgemon seemed to take that suggestion to heart. He suddenly started circling the tower, carving a ring into the ground. Teruo didn’t think he had the power to completely envelope the tower in a Dark Obliteration dome, but he certainly had enough power to damage the foundations. As the dome started to rise, Mercurymon teleported into the vertex of the two walls. He knew he couldn’t hold it open, but he at least had his mirrors. Summoning all the strength he had, he focused on absorbing the attack in progress. He couldn’t worry about what to do with the energy just yet; right now, he had to keep his mind on this task.

            But Velgemon wasn’t about to let Mercurymon get away with this. While his attention was on absorbing the Dark Obliteration, Velgemon fired a Dark Vortex at him, throwing him within the walls. Once that obstacle was out of their way, the walls rose and surrounded the tower. His third eye glowed, activating the detonation.

            However, it never detonated—at least, not the way he wanted it to. While lying on the ground, Mercurymon reflected all of the absorbed energy at the apex, protecting the tower and himself from destruction. When the two opposing forces hit each other, they destroyed one another, creating an explosion that rocked the tower, but did not topple it. A shaky Mercurymon breathed a sigh of relief before getting to his feet.

            He never realized he should have stayed down to avoid making himself an easy target. Furious, Velgemon flew over and threw him with a wing. Mercurymon crashed into one of the floating stones at full speed and felt everything shatter before he fell to the bottom of the chasm. It was only his evolution and the remaining steel and glass armor that saved his life, but even that couldn’t hold out. Fractal Code wrapped around him and devolved him, and he lay helpless at the bottom of the pit, his own Code encircling him.

            Teruo couldn’t feel a thing. He imagined that he’d broken every bone in his body, but he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that it was hard to breathe, and Velgemon was still wreaking havoc above. He knew he’d failed.

            “I’m sorry, Koichi,” he cried between breaths. “I tried.”

            There was a faint beeping sound from the D-tector in his pocket, but he couldn’t get it. Cherubimon’s voice asked, “Teruo, are you there?”

            “Help,” he called out weakly. “I can’t feel anything, but I think I broke everything. And Koichi’s still… I have to help him.”

            “You must remain calm,” Cherubimon interrupted. “I can help you, but only so far. Your Human Spirit is not strong enough for you to defeat Velgemon, and since you do not have a Beast Spirit, I must empower what you have. But it will only work this once—you must win. Do you understand?”

            “Yes,” Teruo answered.

            The power suddenly came through the digivice and into his body, and his last mostly-coherent thought was about how steel and lightning don’t mix. The energy coursed through his body, first firing off nerves and repairing his nervous system, which sent him screaming from the absolute worst pain he’d ever experienced. His bones and internal organs were the next to heal, but the superficial bruises and cuts were too little for the power to worry about. Finally, his Fractal Code returned to his body, and he got up and pulled out his digivice. As he evolved, he felt the surge of power Cherubimon had lent him. This was it. He had to get it right this time or lose everything.

            He barely had to concentrate to teleport back up. He would be in one area for hardly a split-second before vanishing for another. Velgemon never saw him coming. He was about to attack the tower again when a mirror materialized in front of him, caught his Dark Vortex, and reflected it into his chest. As Velgemon started to fall from the blast, Mercurymon looked up to see a bolt of lightning drop from the sky. Realizing it was more help from Cherubimon, he absorbed it in one mirror before reflecting it at Velgemon. The Lightning Spear struck a wing, burning off feathers and rendering it utterly useless. He was forced to fight this battle from the ground.

            Velgemon landed hard, and Mercurymon took full advantage of it. The moment he crashed onto the ground, Mercurymon hit him with everything he had. Mirrors came at him from left and right, colliding over and over. They might as well have been bullets from a semi-automatic rifle; the collisions were so rapid-fire that Velgemon could barely defend himself. He tried to swing at them with his good wing, but Mercurymon absorbed the force behind the attack and reflected it on the other side.

            The power Mercurymon had was so reminiscent of his time possessed by the Demon Lord of Envy that he couldn’t help but draw parallels to that time. Once again, here he was fighting Koichi, and with far more power than he usually had at his disposal. The difference this time was that he wasn’t bound by those feelings of hatred. This time, he wasn’t using a crutch; Cherubimon’s power simply amplified his own tenfold, giving him equal footing against the Beast Spirit of Darkness—just what he needed.

            Thunder crashed in the skies above. The storm of the Rose Morning Star had been stirred up, thanks to Cherubimon’s Lightning Spear, and the electrical forces were building. An idea hit Teruo, and he teleported higher and higher until he was right in the eye-wall of the storm. The winds threatened to rip him apart, but he held his ground, absorbing the lightning that ripped back and forth among the clouds. A Dark Vortex shot up at him, but he reflected it back down at Velgemon. Once he’d absorbed enough lightning, he dropped head-first, tucking his arms in closer to speed his deceleration. Then he charged his shields and threw them at Velgemon. There was an agonized roar as the electrical shock went through him.

            Mercurymon grabbed his shields as he landed, and despite the beating he’d gotten, Velgemon continued to fight back. He swiped at Mercurymon with a wing and fired another Dark Vortex. Mercurymon absorbed both and summoned whatever electricity was still in his mirrors, combining them together. He leapt into the air and fired the combined attacks right in Velgemon’s face at point-blank range. This was more than he could handle—the combination, the range, and the location were too much for him to recover from. The attack sent him staggering back, even as the Fractal Code wrapped around him, devolving him.

            Koichi, still caught in the momentum of his previous movements, nearly stepped off the entrance level while losing consciousness. In a flash, Mercurymon teleported over and caught him before he could fall. For a moment, as he saw Koichi’s head jerk backwards, Teruo was afraid he’d made a mistake by grabbing him in his evolved form. But Koichi didn’t appear to be any worse off than he already was from the battle, so he breathed a sigh of relief and carried him inside.

            Teleporting upstairs was a cinch, but the moment he saw the labyrinth beyond, he stopped in shock. It would be stupid to try and aimlessly teleport to try and find the others; he’d get lost too easily. Instead, he set Koichi down for a moment and devolved. He hadn’t counted on the sudden loss of power—as potent as the sudden gain. The borrowed strength was quickly sapped from him, and he felt lightheaded enough to have to cling to the wall for a moment so he wouldn’t fall backwards. While waiting for the dizziness and weakness to pass, he pulled out his D-tector and called Katsuharu.

            “Teruo?” Katsuharu asked. “You made it?”

            “Yeah,” he answered. “Koichi’s with me, but he’s unconscious. Where are you guys?”

            There was a grunt, and he replied, “In the labyrinth upstairs. We went straight. Listen, there are these wraith things out to get us—you better watch out.”

            “Don’t worry,” Teruo assured. “I’m coming.”

            Walking through the labyrinth was not as easy as he thought it would be. To begin with, he was already exhausted and beaten. That alone would have hampered him greatly, as he could barely catch his breath. But in addition to that, he was supporting a completely unconscious boy who was roughly his height and weight. Koichi’s feet kept dragging behind him as Teruo tried to carry him along the path. It took a long time before he saw the screens of Fractal Code. It didn’t take long at all for them to see him.

            If walking was difficult, running was even worse. Teruo had no room to dodge the wraiths’ claws while he was half-carrying Koichi. He couldn’t fight back either. Claws tore at his clothes and exposed skin, adding to his injuries. In the distance, he could hear familiar voices yelling and fighting.

            “Hold on!” he shouted. “I’m com—”

            He was cut off by a blow from behind that sent both him and Koichi flying. He decided to take advantage of it and started to pull out his D-tector when something ridiculously obvious hit him: These creatures were made of darkness.

            Desperate, he checked Koichi’s pocket for his D-tector and when he found it, he wrapped Koichi’s fingers around it and held his hand up in the air. A dark burst came out of it, just as the claws were coming at them. For a second, his vision blurred as blood dripped from a cut into his eyes and made them tear up. But when he blinked to clear his eyesight, he saw that the wraiths had stopped in their tracks and were shuddering from the power. All around them, the wraiths retreated back into their screens, leaving all five Warriors a clear path.

            “What…how did that…the hell?” Katsuharu sputtered. “I refuse to believe something that simple worked!”

            “Suit yourself, but I’m getting the heck outta here,” Teppei decided, running to help Teruo.

            “Me too!” Chiaki agreed, and it was unanimous with the Digimon.

            Katsuharu stopped bothering to try and figure everything out and simply ran over to help Teppei carry Koichi while Chiaki helped Teruo keep his balance. A bright light shone at the end of the labyrinth, and they steadily made their way toward it. It was slow going, but as long as Koichi’s D-tector kept giving off that dark power, the wraiths were too intimidated to attack them.

            Finally, they reached the end of the labyrinth and entered a huge chamber filled with light. No one could see straight, blinking away tears from the brightness all around them. The only relief they got was from a giant figure stepping into the room, blocking some of the light. Even then, there were no shadows cast—simply a dimming in the light. Squinting and shielding their eyes, they looked for the first time upon their benefactor and distant mentor, Lord Cherubimon.

            “We made it,” Teruo declared.

            “Indeed,” Cherubimon noted. “I am glad you are all safe. I did not know that you were attempting to pass through the labyrinth, else I would have set the path for you.”

            “What were those things in there?” Katsuharu asked. “Koichi told us to wait for him instead of charging in, and after that, I see what he meant.”

            Cherubimon looked down for a moment sorrowfully before answering, “They were all test subjects for the Spirit of Darkness. Each of them volunteered, and the Spirit rejected them one by one. It had too strong a will for their own to coexist, and their minds were irrevocably shattered.”

            “Wait a second!” Chiaki cried, nearly dropping Teruo as she walked up to Cherubimon. In the background, everyone began to brace themselves for a Chiaki rant. “Do you mean to tell us that Koichi’s using something that has completely destroyed the minds of Digimon far more powerful than he is? And that everyone who used it went crazy and is now locked up in that labyrinth to attack anyone who comes by?”

            “Yes,” Cherubimon said solemnly. “The Spirit can keep them at bay, as they retain enough memory to fear it. In the same way, this chamber keeps the Spirit of Darkness weakened, as there are no shadows.”

            Teppei looked over at Koichi and saw that he looked considerably paler the longer they were there. “But it’s affecting him too; it’s not just his power that’s dropped.”

            “So you plan to just leave him like this?” Chiaki demanded. “You’ll punish him for something that isn’t really his fault in the first place? What kind of leader are you?”

            There was a collective wince behind her, as everyone realized she’d gone too far. But then, to their great surprise, Cherubimon laughed. Chiaki squeaked in surprise and jumped backwards as thunderous laughter rang out around them. Cautiously, she looked at her friends, who looked just as confused as she did. What had she said that was so funny?

            “Forgive me,” he apologized. “It has been far too long since anyone openly questioned my actions, much less challenged me as you did. I never realized that I missed it.”

            “Please,” Teruo pleaded. “We just want to help Koichi. He’s done a lot for us ever since we first met him. This needs to go both ways.”

            Cherubimon looked at the children and realized for the first time just how much he’d misread them. It was easy to think of human children as innocent, for they certainly were so fragile physically and emotionally. But now he was seeing them in a new light. Koichi carried such deep darkness in his heart that it was doing far more damage than the Spirit ever could. Chiaki boldly stood up to him because she’d learned that if she didn’t, there was no guarantee that anyone else would. Teppei dealt everyday with the consequences of his actions, whether they’d been intentional or not. Katsuharu too was held down by the weight of past sins, yet he insisted on trying to carry the world on his shoulders. And Teruo—naïve, eternally grinning Teruo—had a haunted look in his eyes that Cherubimon could probably never comprehend.

            “Give me his D-tector,” he requested. Katsuharu held it up and it floated up to Cherubimon’s hand. “I will try to purify the Spirit. This will be difficult because I must counteract Seraphimon’s influence, but if all goes well as I hope it will, Koichi will no longer have anything to fear from his Spirit.”

            Relief showed on all of their faces as Katsuharu declared, “Thanks.”

            “In the meantime, all of you take the opportunity to rest. I’ve already marked the path to Koichi’s room, so he too can recover.”

            As the children made their way out, Cherubimon headed for the Hall of Spirits, one of the single most sacred places in the tower. It had been dedicated in the memory of the Legendary Warriors, and the lingering traces of magic and elemental power inside were exactly what he needed to draw on to fix this dilemma. And it was sad, really, that all of this could have been prevented if he’d paid attention to the warning signs so long ago.

            ~~~

            The day was achingly beautiful. It was days like these that made Cherubimon just want to rush out and frolic about the fields and play without a care in the world. Unfortunately, as one of the Three Great Angels, he carried with him all the cares in the world. Sighing, he turned to find his two companions. His smile took up his entire face as he found the first.

            “Ophanimon,” Cherubimon said cheerfully, “You are looking as lovely as the day itself.”

            Ophanimon gave a laugh. “You are too kind, Cherubimon.”

            “How goes our library project? Have you found someone fit to run it?” Cherubimon asked.

            Ophanimon nodded. “I have made Nefertimon our librarian. I thought you might approve.”

            Cherubimon beamed. “Nefertimon is a perfect choice. Dedicated, fierce and powerful, yet also wise and gentle. I doubt there exists a better Digimon out there.”

            “If there is, we have not yet found it. Again, I thank you for allowing me to construct such a building.”

            “Lore and knowledge does no one any good if it is not shared. And, unfortunately, very few are able or willing to journey to the Continent of Darkness in order to learn. I am more than happy to support learning, even if it is under the care of another.”

            “I am still a little shocked that you would turn over such a large portion of your duties to me,” Ophanimon said.

            Cherubimon laughed. “Worry not. I am the keeper of lore and knowledge in the Digital World, not its master. I am glad that my interests are shared among my friends. I mean, it is not as if I am incapable of preserving life, or feeling love, am I?”

            “Greetings!” a voice behind them interjected, and they turned to see the helmeted face of Seraphimon. “I apologize for the delay; I wanted to ensure that I was adequately prepared for this gathering.”

            “Not at all,” Cherubimon said, wondering about the tone of his friend’s voice, “I am glad, in fact. I would rather lose a few minutes now than to lose this entire meeting for lack of resources.”

            “Then let us convene,” Ophanimon said, walking towards the meeting room, Seraphimon close behind. Cherubimon watched them, curious, before following himself.

            The meeting was cordial at first, exchanging pleasantries among one another, and updating them on the status of their respective home territories. It didn’t take long, however, for tensions to become heated.

            “Next on the agenda concerns a pack of Garurumon that has been terrorizing nearby villages. I recommend the use of one of our divisions to corral them.  They must be relocated or reformatted, depending on the situation,” Seraphimon stated plainly.

            That did not sit right with Cherubimon. “May I ask exactly which pack this is, if indeed it was named?”

            “I believe it was the Tundra Howl pack, from the reports. In any case, I believe we should send—”

            Before Seraphimon could continue, Cherubimon yelled, “Tundra Howl?  I have often spoken with that pack’s alpha myself, indeed not one month ago.  They are not dangerous and never have been.”

            Though Seraphimon’s face was hidden, Cherubimon could feel the dark gaze behind the helmet. “Cherubimon, the villages have reported that they often run through their territories, attacking each other and firing attacks.  This reckless behavior is potentially harmful.”

            Cherubimon gasped, “That is their method of play.  All Garurumon packs engage in that behavior in some form. And I know for a fact that no property has been destroyed by this pack, and none have been hurt aside from minor injuries within the pack itself.”

            “Regardless, such carelessness could easily turn into a disaster if the circumstances were correct. A stray tumble could crush hatchlings; a misfired attack could burn homes and crops, would you let that chance hang over your head for the sake of play?”

            “This pack is not malicious. Even you cannot say otherwise. They have protected villages from threats before, or aided in hunts or harvests. The Tundra Howl pack are benevolent creatures, and you would reformat them because they might hurt someone?”

            “It is not a matter of if, Cherubimon, it is a matter of when. No matter how good their intentions, their actions will eventually bring ruin. We cannot allow these Garurumon to sow chaos and fear in an area when it can easily be reigned in. Order must be preserved.”

            “You act as if order is not in place already. Beast type Digimon like Garurumon need to play.  It acts as a release for their wilder instincts. They hurt none in doing so.  When you give them no outlet for their violent tendencies, that is when the pack will begin to hurt others…”

            Before Seraphimon could reply, Ophanimon said, “Enough,” in a soft tone that demanded attention. “We will send some envoys to the Tundra Howl pack and attempt to bridge an agreement between the pack and the villages in question. The solution will be made among them, though if nothing can be agreed upon, the pack will be relocated, forcefully if necessary.  And we will stress that the use of lethal force must only be used if lives are in danger. Is this acceptable?”

            Seraphimon nodded his assent. Cherubimon felt as though he should say something more, but, finding nothing to say, merely agreed. Though nothing else in the meeting sparked any true arguments, the incident did not sit right with the Beast Angel.  He only hoped that this uneasiness would fade.

            His hopes were for naught.

            Several weeks later, Cherubimon was flying over the woods of the Digital World, trying to forget the frequency of the arguments he’d had with his friends, and, worst of all, the sheer unfairness of it. 

            It’s probably just me, Cherubimon thought to himself. If the trio consisted of two Beast Types and one Human Type, then even just decisions may seem to favor the other side… He thought on this, briefly fantasizing Ophanimon as a Beast Type Digimon, perhaps a Magnadramon, and was so lost in thought that he almost missed it.

            A figure had collapsed underneath a tree, badly scarred and gasping for breath. It was a WereGarurumon. Cherubimon was puzzled. There was no reason that an Ultimate Level Digimon should be running in fear. And this Digimon was of the Beast Man variety, so he should not fear the angel’s appearance.

            “What troubles you?” Cherubimon asked as he flew down in front of the WereGarurumon. Rather than relax, the wolf man instead leapt to his feet, quivering with fear but baring his fists.

            “Stay back!” WereGarurumon managed to bark out. “You may be one of the Great Angels, but I’m not gonna let you kill me too!”

            Cherubimon blinked. “Why would I kill you? You are one of my charges!”

            “Hah! So was the rest of my pack, but you killed us all anyway! Tried to herd us away from our hunting grounds and killed us when we asked why. But you didn’t get me!  I’m still here, and I won’t let you take me too!”

            Cherubimon’s eyes widened, then said, “Are…are you a member of the Tundra Howl pack?”

            WereGarurumon glared. “None of us are left, only me. All done in the name of the Great Angels.”

            WereGarurumon was waiting for a killing blow to come, ready to die in the name of his dead brothers, but the angel did not attack.  Instead, he gaped, then, shockingly, began to cry.

            “Why?” Cherubimon cried. “They told me… they would never…” He looked to the bewildered WereGarurumon, “Your pack…they were forced away and killed?”

            “You didn’t know?” WereGarurumon yelped. At the shake of the angel’s head, he said, “A cadre of warriors, Pidmon and D’Arcmon surrounded our pack and told us to leave to the mountains. We knew those mountains had no food, we tried to explain, to ask what was going on, but they…” He looked to the angel. “They said they were acting under your orders. Was this a lie?”

            “I am not sure,” Cherubimon said, wiping his eyes. “But I do know that there have been lies told…” He took the WereGarurumon’s shoulder in his massive hand, “Run to the nearest Trailmon station and go to the Continent of Darkness. Once there, search for my servants, I believe the Pipismon will be cordial to you. They will take you to my tower and provide you with food and shelter. Whatever you wish to do from there shall be your decision, but know now that at least one of the Great Angels still seeks to protect you…”

            Not waiting for the bewildered werewolf’s response, Cherubimon took to the skies, sadness fading to anger and hurt. If the last few meetings between him and his friends were fights, the next one would be a bloodbath.

            The only thing that could possibly make any sense was the frightening thought that Seraphimon, feeling cheated that Ophanimon and Cherubimon had sided against him, had sent the orders without their consent. But where Cherubimon and Seraphimon were often at odds, Ophanimon had always been their peacemaker. She was the heart of the trio. She would surely be able to talk Seraphimon down before any attacks were fired.

            He’d managed to calm down before reaching Ophanimon’s castle. Nefertimon, still tending to the library, pointed him in the direction of the lady of the castle before returning to her duties. Everything seemed so normal; it was hard to believe that in a few hours’ time, yet another chapter in Digital World history would be written.

            Ophanimon was standing in the middle of the sea of flowers that grew all across the Continent of Light. Hearing Cherubimon’s approach, she said, “I take it you’ve heard the news about Tundra Howl.”

            He was a bit surprised that she knew and fervently hoped that she’d already taken care of things. “Yes,” he answered. “I hoped we could discuss this with Seraphimon. There is much I do not understand.”

            “There is nothing to discuss,” she answered, yet Cherubimon didn’t feel as relieved as he thought he would. “I agree that Seraphimon overstepped his authority by interfering with your charges. However…”

            “However what?”

            “However, this was the only right choice. Tundra Howl cared nothing for the lives of their neighbors and simply continued playing their dangerous games. A show of force was necessary to demonstrate to all Digimon that should they threaten the lives of their neighbors and the peace of our world, we will not stand by idly.”

            He stared at her in shock. “And so you slaughter an entire pack just to prove a point? Your domains are life and love! I would think that you above all would have more regard for it.”

            “Sometimes, it seems that I am the only one who still cares about life,” she replied. “Digimon fight each other everyday, the winners uploading the losers’ Fractal Code just for the sake of growing stronger. Nothing has changed since the days of the Civil War between types. Though Human Types and Beast Types may cooperate with one another, the world still chooses to live by the law of eat or be eaten.”

            “Have you learned nothing from Lucemon’s tyranny?” Cherubimon demanded. “His attempts at creating order nearly destroyed the Digital World! This world is a wild place. There needs to be balance between chaos and order, and just as too much chaos will destroy the world, we have seen that too much order not only robs us of our individual liberties but of our lives as well! How many Digimon were slaughtered before the Legendary Warriors put a stop to Lucemon’s campaign?”

            “Keeper of knowledge, you forget the most important lesson in history,” Ophanimon said calmly. “Those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat it. Lucemon’s mistake was that he believed he could conquer by the subjugation of Digimon alone. He forgot that the Digital World itself is a living program, subject to the same exact rules as us. Scan a Digimon’s Fractal Code, and you can purify it. The Digimon is reborn in the Village of Beginnings with no memory of his past life, and a new personality. Only rarely do they ever regain their memories and personalities. The same would work for the Digital World. It doesn’t need a dictator; it needs a god.”

            Cherubimon could not believe what he was hearing. He no longer knew Ophanimon—she had changed into something he could never hope to understand, much less love. But in the memory of the Digimon she may have once been, the ideal he’d loved, he simply left to deal with Seraphimon. He would regret his choice not to kill her for the rest of his life.

            He barely remembered exactly what happened when he reached Seraphimon’s castle in the Forest Kingdom, but he knew he’d left a bewildered Sorcermon in his wake. He smashed open the door to Seraphimon’s inner sanctum to find him poring over reports—more orders for the extermination of Digimon who didn’t fit with Ophanimon’s world order, he convinced himself.

            “Seraphimon, what are you doing?” he demanded.

            “Cherubimon, you know that if the leaders of the world do not uphold justice, then the world falls apart as they watch,” Seraphimon answered, playing no games. “We did what was necessary.”

            “Was that your decision or Ophanimon’s?” Cherubimon asked. “When I spoke with her, it sounded as though she was the mastermind.”

            “I freely admit that I put my pride aside on this one,” Seraphimon confessed. “But in the end, my friend, you always knew it would end this way. We tried to govern this world together, representing all of the Digimon and the virtues they decided were most important to preserve after Lucemon’s fall. They specifically chose a team of at least one Beast Type and at least one Human Type. But the differences were always there, and we would never see eye to eye. Ophanimon’s plan may be the only thing that can make these differences obsolete. She seeks for the Digital World to come to an understanding.”

            “What she seeks, we stood against when we first agreed to rule,” Cherubimon reminded him. “I see now that there is no way to reconcile this with either of you. I am sorry that it came to this.”

            Seraphimon laughed. “What do you plan to fight me with? Your powers and mine are equal. We would reach a stalemate—unless you plan to use those Spirits of yours. But now, that isn’t fair. I have two and you have five. Furthermore, as part of our settlement during our last meeting, Ophanimon and I were forced to scatter our Spirits across the Digital World, where even we don’t know how to find them.”

            “Fairness no longer has anything to do with this,” Cherubimon said. “And I only need one Spirit against you.” He presented the Spirits of Darkness, which were easily the strongest of the ten for the simple fact that there was nowhere that shadows did not exist. Nothing was known that could limit that power, and it even drew strength from the light. Only the Spirits of Light were equal, and their powers could be limited.

            “No one could resurrect the Warriors,” Seraphimon argued. “You know that better than anyone. The Spirits reject the Digimon who try to use their power. Nothing has ever worked.” Then, seeing that his opponent was not backing down, he added, “But to be on the safe side…”

            He formed a Strike of the Seven Stars and fired at the Spirits. All seven entered them—three in the Human Spirit, four in the Beast Spirit. It was clearly intended to destroy them, but instead, the Spirits absorbed the power of light and took it into themselves. However, because that light was corrupted, so too was the darkness that formed. The Spirits changed form and positively reeked of destruction.

            “You won’t be doing anything with those anymore, old friend,” Seraphimon pointed out. Cherubimon sent them back to the Hall of Spirits before lunging into battle.

            He raised his hands in the air and summoned a massive storm. Lightning struck down from the Storm of Judgment, aiming toward Seraphimon. Knowing he had to do something, Seraphimon formed his stars and blasted them at Cherubimon. Both Digimon were too large to escape damage all together, but it was hardly enough to hurt them seriously.

            Lightning and stars went flying everywhere, smashing crystal everywhere they impacted. Cherubimon’s attacks covered a wide range, so lightning struck absolutely everything. Seraphimon, being a slow flier, could not stay out of the line of fire. His defense, however, was very high thanks to his armor; he was able to withstand these attacks better than Cherubimon could withstand his. Seraphimon’s attacks, after all, were focused more on power than anything else. Though they both drew their powers from the heavens, it was a simple fact that lightning could not burn as brightly or as hotly as a star.

            Cherubimon dodged another attack and decided to stop playing around. Throwing away all pretense of being a wise and respected ruler, he charged into Seraphimon as if they were much younger Digimon fighting for territory—for in a way, they were. Seraphimon was taken aback by the sudden change in battle strategy, and Cherubimon easily grabbed him with one of his long arms and threw him into a wall. The force destroyed the crystal completely, and Seraphimon fell into the next chamber. Inside, a sculpture of the three Great Angels stood alone and forgotten by the actions of the day. The statue showed them serene, wise, and just, and most of all, friends—everything they weren’t anymore.

            Seraphimon got up and held out a hand, prepared to fire another seven stars, but this time at the sculpture. “Not another step, Cherubimon,” he warned. “I destroy this, and you know what will happen. Even your lightning can’t strike me fast enough.”

            Cherubimon halted, unwilling to let him destroy the key to the Forest Kingdom’s Fractal Code. Seraphimon laughed at his indecision, taunting him as he tried to figure out what to do. If he did anything, Seraphimon would fire; but if he did nothing, Seraphimon would fire anyway. This was not a battle he could win. He had to take his chances.

            Lightning crackled in his fist and formed a spear. Still caught up in his laughter, Seraphimon didn’t see the spear forming, and Cherubimon thanked the ancient digital gods this was so. He didn’t dare aim at Seraphimon’s arm for fear of releasing the stars, but he could try to preserve the statue by an even more insane technique: striking it.

            The Lightning Spear struck the sculpture at its base, causing it to fall. It cracked, but it did not shatter, and for that, Cherubimon was grateful. Caught off-guard by the sudden attack, Seraphimon held still long enough for Cherubimon to launch another Lightning Spear at him. The surprise lasted only a moment, however, and he dodged the spear to fire the stars at Cherubimon. Cherubimon tried to fly out of the way, but one star hit him in the side. He grimaced and tried to take the pain, but it meant his attacks would be limited. He couldn’t raise his arms high enough to summon storms, so he would have to hope that his aim for Lightning Spears would be accurate enough.

            Seraphimon came in close, his hand burning with an electrical attack of his own. Cherubimon tried to dodge, but Seraphimon still managed to slash his side. The pain was unbearable, and he fell. Seraphimon hovered above him, laughing over his victory, once again forgetting that he needed to mind his surroundings. At least that was one thing that had not changed—his pride had just blinded him even worse now.

            With great effort, he raised his arms and summoned enough lightning to strike Seraphimon with all its might. He staggered as the storm forced him to the ground, falling backwards. Cherubimon saw his chance and hurled another spear directly at him. He meant to hit the heart, but injury threw off his aim, causing it to strike Seraphimon’s less-armored abdomen. While it wasn’t a killing blow, it was enough this time. Seraphimon fell unceremoniously to the floor, and Cherubimon summoned what was left of his power to manipulate the shattered pieces of crystal around them to form a prison around the castle’s master.

            There was silence for a moment before a breathless voice cried, “What is going on?”

            Turning to Sorcermon, Cherubimon declared, “Your master has turned against this world. I had no choice.” He ignored how much it sounded like Ophanimon’s own excuse to him.

            “I know just how far he’s gone,” Sorcermon reminded him. “As messenger, I had to deliver the orders to his troops to wipe out several tribes that I felt had done nothing wrong: Garurumon pack Tundra Howl, Gaogamon pack Aurora Wind, Leomon pride Savanna Flame, the Night Claw and Light Fang orders—need I go on? I know he had to be stopped. I just didn’t know whether it’d be you or Lady Ophanimon who’d do it.”

            “It was Ophanimon who planned this. Seraphimon was the enforcer.”

            Sorcermon fixed hard eyes on him and said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe anymore. Leave. I’ll take care of everything from here. I’ll make sure that no one—not even you or Ophanimon—comes near here. If there is to be any justice in this world again, I’ll just have to start by being a jailer.”

            Cherubimon ignored the way Sorcermon was trying to keep from shaking as he realized just whom he was speaking up to. Without a word, he turned and left for home to begin preparations for war.

            ~~~

            It was a quiet evening in the tower at the Rose Morning Star. In the Hall of Spirits, Cherubimon fought off painful memories. In a study-turned-bedroom, Katsuharu and Teppei put Koichi on the bed as all of them struggled with what to do next. In Koichi’s mind, there was a blissful absence of dark influence, the calm before the storm of nightmares.

            There was nothing to say, and so silence and memory suffocated them all.

 

I apologize for the month-long wait for this chapter. While I never did complete that “Survival Diaries” chapter, I did manage to finish off my Kingdom Hearts fic, write/clean up a couple of oneshots, and overhaul the battle in chapter one, bringing “Yang-Yin” past one hundred thousand words.

The title this time comes from a second season episode of Justice League Unlimited. Inspiration for the battle with Velgemon came from the Josh Groban song “Weeping.” Major thanks go out to Ryan Griffin and Shaun Garin. Ryan wrote a good half of the Cherubimon flashback—while the confrontations with Ophanimon and Seraphimon were mine, he started out the backstory. Shaun also contributed suggestions for the battle with Seraphimon and pointed me out to the 1980s Transformers movie for the end of the fight.

Chapter Text

            Koichi’s bedroom was actually a spartan-looking study that had hastily been converted into living quarters. A rather large couch—probably intended for students reading late into the night—served as the bed, and it was long and wide enough that Koichi fit on it and still had room to stretch if necessary. The only other things in the room were a bookshelf filled with tomes none of the kids could read, and a desk with a chair and small lamp. All in all, Katsuharu could see why Koichi had wanted to get away.

            He sat down against the wall and watched the others. Bokomon had claimed the desk and was scribbling notes about the wraiths, his impressions of Cherubimon, and the little they knew so far of Teruo’s battle with Velgemon. Neemon was sleeping in the corner, completely oblivious to everything. Chiaki was bandaging Teruo while Teppei bandaged Koichi, following Teruo’s instructions of where he’d hit him hardest. Bandaging Teruo was easy—his body was one gigantic bruise. Koichi, however, showed no external injuries but might have been suffering nerve damage after the lightning strikes. Teruo was telling his story slowly, exhausted and hurt from the battle. No one minded, though, not even Teppei; they could play the waiting game as long as they needed.

            It really was strange looking at Koichi lying on the couch. Take away the bandages, and he looked like nothing more than a kid who’d just fallen asleep. With a start, Katsuharu realized that was all Koichi was, what all of them were: simply little kids with far too much power and responsibility for them to handle.

            And he’s got it worst of all, he thought, examining his left palm. There were traces of a scar there from his duration as Greed. While Nohemon had been the one to cut him there, Koichi was the one who lost control and beat the sap out of Petaldramon. Without meaning to, Koichi had seriously injured all of the kids except Teppei, whose Digimon forms had too thick skin to cut easily, and who had a surprising amount of sense when it came to not annoying Duskmon.

            He sighed and murmured under his breath, “We’re just tiny humans who can’t do anything right, can we?” No one else heard him, but he was sure they felt the same.

            Once the wounds were treated and the stories written, the group took advantage of the silence and calm to nap. Their sleep was light and fitful, but when they finally awoke to the sounds of Koichi moaning and stirring, the solitary clock on the wall told them they’d been out for two hours at least.

            “Well, here’s the test,” Katsuharu muttered.

            Koichi sat up in bed, for a moment confused and disoriented. Katsuharu held up a hand to stop Chiaki from coming over to help, just as Koichi clutched his head as the memories started to return. When the headache passed, he lowered his head and looked like all he wanted to do now was curl up and die.

            “Hey,” Katsuharu called softly, but Koichi didn’t respond. “It’s going to be okay. Cherubimon has the Spirits now. You don’t have to worry about anything.”

            When he didn’t move in response, Teruo added, “And we don’t blame you.” That earned him a shocked look, but he insisted, “We know it wasn’t your fault. You just did what you had to.”

            “I thought I could control it,” Koichi said in a quiet, shamed voice. “I was wrong.”

            Sensing that everyone needed a subject change, Teppei said, “So we finally got to meet Cherubimon and put a face to the voice. Man, no wonder Takuya and the others are kicking our asses all the time! Our leader is a giant, fluffy pink bunny!”

            It got the desired reaction. Indignant, Bokomon jumped to his feet (knocking over Neemon in the process) and exclaimed, “Cherubimon is one of the greatest Digimon our world has ever produced! He has done everything in his power to ensure that you five succeed in your quest. How can you be so disrespectful?”

            “I respect him just fine,” Teppei answered as smirks were starting to crack on his friends’ faces. “But I also respect the fact that he’s a bunny rabbit, and not all that threatening.”

            While Bokomon sputtered in rage, Teppei turned to look at Koichi. Unfortunately, while his joke had lightened the others’ moods, it had done little for him. He glanced at Chiaki, who assured Koichi, “Everything’s going to be okay now. Cherubimon’s working to purify the Spirits of Darkness. The next time you evolve, you won’t have to worry about any of this.”

            “There won’t be a next time,” he replied, and there was such intensity in his quiet voice that everyone stopped to listen to him. “I’m tired of this—the nightmares, the loss of control, the pain. I’m sick of darkness altogether.”

            Everyone stared at him before slowly making their way out of the room. There was nothing they could say or do to change his mind, so they chose to say and do nothing.

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-one: “Rebirth”

            It was the smell of fresh-baked sweets that finally brought Bokomon to the kitchen after his self-guided tour of the tower. While he hadn’t managed to write down nearly as much as he’d wanted to, breakfast waited for no one, especially when one’s companions were Neemon and five human children. They could complain all they wanted about how much either Bokomon or Neemon could eat, but he’d never seen anyone pack away food with as much gusto as those five did.

            Sure enough, there was a steaming plate of sweet rolls and five flour-covered humans sitting at the table. Bokomon was glad to see that Koichi looked like he’d had fun; it had been two weeks since he’d quit, and it had been hard getting him to stop moping about. When Katsuharu had gotten worried enough to ask Cherubimon, he’d told them that part of it was Koichi’s guilt and part may have been a side-effect of the Spirits’ purification. No one quite had the heart to tell Koichi this, however, so they settled for trying to cheer him up in any way possible. Apparently, a sugar rush was just what he needed.

            “You know, I could get used to this,” Teppei decided, munching on a third roll. “Warm beds, good food, little supervision, and no fighting. It’s like a vacation.”

            “Don’t get too used to it,” Chiaki reminded him. “Ophanimon’s Warriors aren’t going to be out of action forever.”

            Everyone snuck a glance at Koichi to see how he’d react to any mention of this, but before he had a chance to say or do anything, the others’ D-tectors sounded off. Katsuharu sighed and declared, “I guess Cherubimon needs us. You might as well come along too, Koichi. Can’t see why he’d leave you out of it.” And slowly, Koichi got up and followed him. That simple gesture showed each other that the Warriors would still keep him in the loop, and he wasn’t going to alienate himself from them.

            If the group had unanimously hated the light chamber, they unanimously liked the Hall of Spirits. Light came from element-sympathetic globes on high pillars, and it was soft like candlelight. Everything was peaceful and calming and most of all, safe. They felt like as long as they were there, nothing could go wrong. It was no wonder that Cherubimon was trying to repair the Spirits in here of all places.

            “Children, I apologize for interrupting your meal, but this is a matter I did not feel could wait,” Cherubimon said.

            “No problem,” Katsuharu answered. It had become his habit to be as informal as possible with their mentor, partly to see if he’d loosen up and partly because Bokomon’s reaction the first three times was hilarious. “What’s up?”

            “Right now, I have not managed to make much progress with the Spirits of Darkness. The curse on them is far more extensive than I originally thought.”

            “And the bad news?” Teppei asked, guessing that this could only get worse.

            Cherubimon gave them a somber look before turning his attention to Koichi. “Koichi, you still stand by your decision to give the Spirits up?”

            He nodded. “Yes. I can’t take the pain anymore. And I’d never ask it on anyone else, so if you can’t fix them, please be sure no one tries to use them.”

            “I understand your concerns,” Cherubimon replied. “Rest assured that I will keep that in mind should I fail. But even in the event that this succeeds, you all must decide what to do next. Ophanimon has five Warriors, and now you are down to four. It would be too dangerous to call any more children to this world, even if we could locate one with a spirit synchronized with the darkness.”

            “Sounds like you were one in a million,” Teppei muttered to Koichi, who stared at the ground in guilt.

            “This is not a decision you must make immediately,” Cherubimon warned, “but you must come to a decision soon. Koichi, the bulk of the responsibility is on your shoulders. I ask that the rest of you do not interfere in his choice.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed reluctantly as Koichi walked out alone. “We’ll leave it to him.”

            When they left, Koichi was nowhere in sight. Glumly, they returned to the kitchen and sat down. Even though they hadn’t finished eating before Cherubimon called them, only Neemon had an appetite left—even this news couldn’t spoil that. For a while, the kids stared off into space before Chiaki finally said, “We need to figure out what we’re going to do.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed. “So what do we have?”

            “We can hope that he changes his mind,” Teruo suggested. “And knowing him, he might.”

            “The problem there: he’d do it because of us,” Teppei pointed out. “Koichi can be too damn altruistic for his own good sometimes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I wouldn’t want him to decide to use the Spirits again—fixed or not—unless he really wanted to.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu sighed. “And he’d do just that.”

            “If the Spirits are fixed, Cherubimon could always call in a Digimon to help,” Chiaki said. “But I don’t want Koichi feeling like we’re trying to replace him.”

            “And we’ve got another problem,” Teppei added. “Bokomon, how many Digimon do you know of that have extremely dark hearts and are still inherently good?”

            Without looking it up, Bokomon shook his head. “I’m afraid none, Teppei. While darkness is one of the Digital World’s natural elements, too often those who draw from it are corrupted by the power and turn evil.”

            “Is darkness just evil to begin with?” Katsuharu mused.

            “I don’t think so,” Teruo answered. “It’s just an element, like fire. But everything has two sides to it: helpful and harmful. We just tend to run into the destructive kind of darkness.”

            “After all,” Bokomon added, “the original Warrior of Darkness, AncientSphinxmon, was a great hero of the Digital World. He was very mysterious, of course, and most accounts say that not everyone could understand his decisions, but all agree that he was as good as they come.”

            “One in a million,” Teppei declared again.

            “Here’s another question for you: what’s Koichi going to do?” Katsuharu asked. “Can he really stay here, knowing that he won’t fight? He’d be in danger every moment.”

            “He does hate feeling like a liability,” Chiaki sighed. “And he never got the chance to confront Koji.”

            “He might just give up,” Teppei realized. “Go home without a fight and tell his mom the little he knows and just hope for the best.”

            Chiaki shook her head. “He’d hate that.”

            “But he’d do it,” Teruo argued.

            “So, worst case scenario: he leaves the Digital World, the Spirits can’t be fixed, and we can’t afford to get a replacement,” Katsuharu determined. “What happens next?”

            “What about the Beast Spirits?” Neemon suggested.

            “They only have three,” Bokomon replied. “All five of Ophanimon’s Warriors have theirs.”

            “We’ll step up the search for Teruo’s then,” Katsuharu decided. “And trade off fights. I’m no good against fire or ice, but I can take on light and wind.”

            “I’m good against lightning or fire,” Chiaki added.

            “I can take anything,” Teppei said. “Fire and lightning can’t hurt me, and I’ve stood my ground against wind and ice. Light shouldn’t be a problem either.”

            “And Teruo can take light, wind, or ice,” Katsuharu noted. “Lightning’s the only one he has to worry about.”

            “But that’s not the worst case scenario,” Teruo interrupted. Everyone stared at him.

            “What is, then?” Katsuharu asked.

            “We keep assuming that we’ll keep the Spirits of Darkness, but we’re down our most powerful Warrior. We barely held our own to begin with. If Ophanimon’s Warriors attack us head-on, we could lose them to her.”

            Silence filled the room as they realized just what that meant. Chiaki buried her face in her hands, Katsuharu shook his head, and Teppei muttered curses under his breath. Bokomon and Neemon simply looked afraid.

            “She can’t get that kind of power,” Katsuharu decided. “We can’t let her.”

            “What about destroying them?” Chiaki suggested. “Remember when we first met Koichi? He said that if we didn’t use our Spirits, we could at least destroy them before Ophanimon could get them.”

            “Don’t you think that if that was an option, Cherubimon would have tried it already?” Teppei asked. “Think about it: Seraphimon screws the Spirit over so bad, he doesn’t know how to fix it. He tries to use it anyway, and gets a ton of volunteers to test it, but they all go nuts. But instead of giving up like he should, he takes a page from Ophanimon’s book and looks for a human kid. So he gets Koichi to try, and the process works, but it’s screwed with him so much that he can’t remember half of it and he can’t control his power. Cherubimon lets him keep it anyway. And everything I’ve seen shows that Cherubimon cares a lot for him and feels terrible for what he did, but then why didn’t he just take the Spirit back and tell Koichi ‘I don’t think this stupid thing is going to work, sorry for the trouble, I’m taking a nuke to it’? There’s something we don’t know here, and it’s driving me crazy.”

            Chiaki sighed, “This isn’t some big conspiracy, Teppei. You’re going overboard.”

            “But my point still stands,” he continued. “At any point during that, Cherubimon could have destroyed the Spirit, but he didn’t. I think it’s because he can’t. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Spirits still and even more about the Legendary Warriors. History’s kind of hush-hush on it, probably because no one knew what was up with them. But we do know that the Spirits are tightly bonded to the Digital World—we can feel that ourselves. When I evolve, I feel the steadiness of the earth beneath my feet, and when I fight, I feel the power of an earthquake or a volcano erupting. You guys probably feel the same thing with your elements. Hell, sometimes I don’t know if we’re humans with the hearts of Digimon or Digimon with the hearts of humans, but I do know that as hokey as it sounds, we’re part of something bigger than we are. The Spirits are part of this world, and so are we. The difference is that while we’re easy enough to destroy, the Spirits can’t be. The Legendary Warriors took out Lucemon. I think their Spirits can take a lot more than that.”

            Teppei’s outburst made more sense than anyone wanted to admit. It was more like something Teruo would say, so from someone so normally sarcastic and laid-back, this was something they had no choice but to listen to. And it held one undeniable truth: the Spirits couldn’t be destroyed, so this was anyone’s game.

            “So,” Katsuharu started once everyone got past the massive burst of insight, “now what?”

            “I can’t see Ophanimon having any problem with getting as many guinea pigs for the Spirit as she needs,” Chiaki decided. “If Digimon can’t take it, she’ll try humans again, regardless of how much darkness they have in their hearts.”

            “Expendable Duskmons sounds like her style,” Teppei agreed.

            “And after that, how long before she decides that the others are just as expendable?” Teruo asked. “She’ll take any kid with a cell phone, force one to evolve with the Spirit of Darkness, and send them out to fight. When they finally lose their mind, she just throws them out and grabs another. She’ll have the power to take more chances, and with so many kids already gathered, she has a replacement if one of the others is killed. The Spirits may pick us, but she won’t care.”

            “How many children are in your world?” Bokomon asked.

            “Dude, that’s like asking how many Rookie Digimon are in yours,” Teppei answered, shaking his head. “We’ve got hundreds of countries, and people live on six out of seven continents. And with the way our world is now with technology and everything, parents are buying their kids phones whether they need them or not. It used to be that phones were so expensive that only adults would get them.”

            “Now, even my five-year-old sister has a kid-friendly one,” Chiaki agreed. “I never thought of it that way before. Every last one of us is just another draftee in waiting, so long as we have a phone.”

            “She only took from the Tokyo area because of the gate opening in Shibuya station,” Teruo realized. “But if things keep up, she’ll have the power to open gates anywhere. It won’t just be Tokyo; it’ll be Japan, then all of Asia, then the whole Eastern Hemisphere, and slowly the entire world.”

            “To the point that it won’t matter who has cell phones or not,” Katsuharu continued. “She’ll have the power to just kidnap kids if she has to, never mind trick them into volunteering. We fell right into her trap.”

            No one noticed that Koichi was standing outside the kitchen, listening in. Enough time shadowing his brother in the human world had taught him the basics of spying and how to disappear in plain sight. Now, he was putting those skills to good use. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but everybody brought up so many good points that he couldn’t help himself. It was more than what he’d considered himself. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to entertain second thoughts, but this was something he needed to think over on his own, so he left.

            As he did, he heard Teruo ask, “So now, what do we do?”

            ~~~

            The dream started with a memory Koichi wasn’t sure ever happened. He was very young and playing with birds in the park. His mother would drop breadcrumbs on the ground for the birds, and Koichi would try to get close. But every time he did, the birds took off.

            “Mama, why do they keep flying away?” he asked.

            “It’s because they’re afraid of you,” his mother explained. “To something that small, you seem big and scary.”

            “But why? I won’t hurt them.”

            “They need that fear to survive, Koichi. If they didn’t know to fly away when something bigger than them comes close, then they’d be eaten.”

            Koichi looked up at the birds taking flight for a moment before grinning and spreading his arms out to pretend to fly. But once he did, the ground disappeared underneath him, and he found himself at age eleven once more, falling through a cloud of darkness and red feathers toward the ground.

            He felt his shoulder smack against the floor, waking him up. Most of his body was tied up in the blankets, keeping him partially in and out of bed. It took a minute to untangle himself from the bedding before he sat on the floor, rubbing his shoulder and trying not to think about ruined flights. Then finally, he headed out of the room.

            He went to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of leftover sweet rolls and some dried fruit before heading to the light chamber. Normally, he avoided it, but this was the closest he could get to the Hall of Shadows, the labyrinth where the wraiths were trapped. When he was too naïve to know what the Spirits were doing to him, he would go in there on his own without fear of the shadow creatures; though the one time he’d gotten lost without knowing the Spirit could hold them off, Oryxmon had to find him, and he used the bell around his neck to frighten them away. But now, both were gone, and while he welcomed the loss of the former, part of him was still hurting from the loss of the latter.

            “Koichi?” Chiaki asked, walking over. “What are you doing here? I thought you couldn’t stand it.”

            “I can’t,” he admitted. “I just needed to think.”

            She sat across from him and noticed that even without now, he looked weak. “You look terrible. Is something wrong?”

            “Just a couple of nightmares,” he replied. “Don’t worry about it.” But the look she gave him clearly indicated that she would worry. “Those things back there tried to use the Spirit of Darkness—my Spirit—and it ate them alive. Cherubimon says I’m the only one who didn’t lose my mind, but I know different. I could feel it breaking through, trying to poison me with rage and hatred. I got a good look at that during the Demon Lord crisis, and nothing’s scared me more ever since. So how close was I to becoming one of them? Or one of those things? Or like Ophanimon’s Warriors?”

            Chiaki wanted to say something to help him, but she knew she couldn’t, so she bit her tongue to keep from influencing him. Ultimately, she stood up, offered him a hand, and said, “Let’s get out of here and get some real breakfast. You look like you could use it.” He nodded and took her hand.

            Where breakfast yesterday had been a loud, fun event, this one was silent and awkward. Everybody tried not to look at Koichi as he took a glass of juice and some toast. He tried sitting down to eat with them, but the silence got to be too much for him, and he took his food back to his room. With a cry of frustration, Teppei got to his feet.

            “Don’t,” Chiaki warned. “You know we’re not supposed to talk him into anything.”

            “Relax, I’m not going to,” he replied. “I just want to get our friend back. I’m sick of him brooding.”

            While they did everything they could, there were times enough when Koichi would settle into depression and nothing could break him out of it. This was not going to be one of those times. Although he respected Chiaki and Katsuharu’s gentle approach, Teppei knew that sometimes, if you wanted to make an omelet, you had to crack a few heads along with the eggs.

            So it was with absolutely no regret that he kicked down the door to Koichi’s bedroom, startling him out of probably a good five years of his life. Fruit juice spilled all over him, and his toast landed in his lap. Teppei managed to repress a smile as Koichi stared at him in shock and asked, “Why did you do that? You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

            “Face it, man, we need to talk and this is the only way I can get you to,” he answered. “I promise—once we’re done, I’ll get you some new food.”

            “Are you going to do my laundry and fix the door too?” Koichi asked wryly.

            Teppei shrugged. “Whatever gets you talking. Just probably not the door—don’t want you shutting us out again.”

            He sighed. “I guess it’s pointless asking what you want to talk about. I’m not ready to decide yet.”

            “That’s not what I’m here about,” Teppei said. “This is about you sitting around brooding all day and making every last one of us miserable.” Koichi blinked. “This is the only time I’m going to get sappy, so listen up. You’re not the only one going through all this right now. We’re friends, so what affects one of us affects all of us.”

            “I know that,” Koichi admitted. “But no matter how hard I try to keep things the way they should be, something goes wrong, whether it’s my family problems or my Spirit. I keep finding myself being driven away from everyone, like it’s fate.”

            “Okay, pretend I’m Katsuharu and I hate that word with a terrible passion,” Teppei replied. “You can change things. You’re the only one who can. This is your life, not your Spirit’s, not your family’s to screw with.”

            “Yeah, I know.”

            “I admit it’s hard to relate to. None of us have anything like your family, and to tell you the truth, we’d never want to be in your shoes there. But Spirit problems and possession and all of that? We’ve gone through it.”

            Koichi’s shoulders sagged. “Yeah, I realize that now. The Spirit of Darkness was at least somewhat separate from me, but the Demon Lords preyed on your mistakes and fed your sins.”

            “That’s not the only thing,” Teppei added. “I’m giving you the same exact argument I gave Chiaki when she was crying about her Beast Spirit problems. You are not alone. We’ve all gone through it. She couldn’t save a Digimon because he was too afraid of her. Katsuharu let his pride get the better of him with his Beast Spirit and beat the hell out of me. Teruo’s going to go through it too, if past experiences are any indication.

            “And as for me, I’ve got a different problem. I’ve got the control down pat, but that’s because I have to. You think you’ve got too much strength? Try having the ability to punch through solid steel, or any other solid wall. I know I can do that, even if I haven’t. You’ve heard of a bull in a china shop? I feel like that all the time. I’ve always got to pull my punches, make sure I don’t break something or someone. I’m grateful that I didn’t have my Beast Spirit until after the Demon Lord crisis. I’m honestly scared to think of what I would have done if I did, who I would have killed. The list is longer than I care to admit.”

            “I guess…I didn’t think of that,” Koichi confessed.

            “You wouldn’t,” Teppei answered. “I work hard to make sure everyone underestimates me, and I don’t want to have to let loose and show my true power. ‘Cause that would mean that everyone I cared about had been hurt already, maybe even killed. I never want that to happen, so I let Ophanimon send a ton of wusses after me. I’d rather send them home with bloody noses and broken bones than in a body bag.” Koichi nodded. “So, yeah. That’s it. Next time you feel like that, just come and talk to me. I’m not as good a listener as the others, but I’m not as prone to babying you like Chiaki does.” And as he turned, he looked at the door. “And I seriously hope Cherubimon doesn’t bill me for that.” This got Koichi laughing as they headed back out to the kitchen to get some food.

            At that very moment in the Hall of Spirits, something finally went right. After two weeks of little progress, the Spirits of Darkness started to purge themselves of the corrupted influence they’d absorbed. With a start, Cherubimon realized that this was the result of Koichi’s lightening mood. The Spirits weren’t influencing his emotions—it was the other way around!

            But it still wasn’t enough. Cherubimon had always regretted his decision to give Koichi the Spirit of Darkness, even though he knew it was the boy’s destiny. The Spirit had rejected everyone until him, sensing the large amount of darkness he’d buried deep inside him. It had only been by a stroke of luck that Koichi showed strong mental barriers, possibly from years of keeping his darkness separate from his persona so that he could function normally. It had also been luck that the Spirit accepted him. If it hadn’t, there was no guarantee that Koichi would have his mind intact. Cherubimon couldn’t make himself forget how Koichi had come to the buffer zone between the worlds, crying and yelling over his family’s lies and his own inability to make up for them. That had been exactly what the Spirit needed—it forced him to evolve and tear right through the buffer zone toward the Digital World. Cherubimon quickly manipulated the exit point to be the light chamber, where Duskmon’s power was reduced until he finally devolved to an unconscious boy with tears still streaming down his face.

            He knew that Koichi would have to fight. Baromon had made a prophecy that all ten Legendary Warriors would fight again and either save or destroy the Digital World. Cherubimon tried to keep Koichi from evolving, placing restrictions on him, but in the end, Koichi couldn’t let himself stand by helplessly as the people he loved were hurt. And it had all led to this.

            He stepped away from the Spirits. There was nothing more he could do. Koichi needed to decide from here on out, and Cherubimon would not try to influence him again. At first, he’d thought it was the right thing to do. His guilt had made him favor Koichi over all of his apprentices, even though he kept him at a distance. One day, he’d realized he thought of Koichi as a son. And that was exactly why he too had to step back and give Koichi the chance to decide for himself.

            ~~~

            “There you are,” Teruo said when he found Koichi in the highest room in the tower. “The others sent me up to tell you dinner’s ready.”

            Koichi chuckled. “It’s going to be cold by the time we get down there, you know that?”

            Teruo grinned. “That one’s your fault. So what are you doing here?”

            Koichi shrugged. “Not much. I like looking out at the sky at night, and this room has the best view, other than the roof.” His voice was slightly softer as he added, “It reminds me of what the darkness should be.”

            “Yeah,” Teruo agreed. “No one should be scared of it. That’s what’s always bothered me about most fantasy books. If a wizard draws from dark magic, he’s almost always evil. But we need darkness just as much as we need light.”

            Koichi smiled. “You weren’t afraid of the dark as a kid?”

            “Only a little,” Teruo admitted with a grin. “I slept with a flashlight under my bed until I was six.”

            “I don’t think I was all that afraid of it either,” Koichi agreed. “I know my mom used to leave a nightlight on for me, but she left it next to some photos, so if I had a nightmare, I could look over and see that the people I loved wouldn’t let me face it alone. That was always my greatest fear, even now: being abandoned.”

            “I kinda guessed,” Teruo confessed, and Koichi gave him a confused look. “During the fight, you flipped out when I told you I wasn’t going to leave you to deal with the Spirit alone. Plus, you kind of admitted it when we were inside your mind. You said that when you evolve, the Spirit tries to convince you that you don’t need anyone. Add that to your anger toward your father, your fear over your mother, and your grandmother’s death, and I figured this was the case.”

            Koichi shook his head. “Looks like I’m holding onto a lot of fears now. When I was little, I used to love watching the birds fly. I wanted to be just like them, just fly away someday. It figures that when I get a form that can fly, I can’t enjoy it. I’m just stuck as this bird of prey that wants to destroy everything. Guess I just wasn’t meant to fly.”

            “You know, that reminds me of this story I once heard,” Teruo realized. “I can’t think of the names, but there were this father and son locked up in prison somewhere. The father realized that the only way to get out was to fly, so he made some wings with feathers and wax. But since the wings were wax, they couldn’t go too close to the sun or else they’d melt. But the son didn’t listen, and when they took flight, he soared up toward the sun and the heat melted his wings and he fell into the sea.”

            “You’re saying I got too close to the sun?” Koichi guessed.

            “Yeah, I guess so,” Teruo decided.

            With a thoughtful expression on his face, Koichi got up and said, “We’d better head down to make sure we have something left to eat.”

            Teruo grinned. “Yeah. Between Bokomon and Neemon, we’ll be lucky to have a crust of bread.”

            They were grateful they’d gone down to eat when they did. Less than halfway through dinner, an explosion rocked the tower, and all five of the kids jumped to their feet out of instinct.

            “I knew they wouldn’t be out of action long,” Chiaki declared.

            The others were digging into their pockets for their D-tectors when Koichi remembered he no longer had his and sat down. “Go on, guys. I’ll wait up.”

            “We’ll be back,” Katsuharu promised before the four ran off.

            It was a very strange feeling having just four of them again. No matter the danger, Koichi had always been by their side. Even though they all knew this was for the best, it still felt wrong. And Ophanimon’s Warriors picked up on it.

            “What’s the matter, Chiaki?” Zephyrmon mocked. “Missing your boyfriend?”

            An exceptionally thick cloud of acidic fog formed around her, too much for her to blow away. Ranamon growled, “I want my Beast Spirit back.”

            “Then you’ll just have to come get it,” Zephyrmon replied, speeding toward her with her Plasma Pods.

            The pods burned her skin on impact, but she forced herself to get back on her feet quickly. All around her, the fight was going terribly. Gigasmon was trying to fight off Korikakumon and KendoGarurumon at the same time, but attacks kept getting by him and hitting one of the others—usually Petaldramon, who tried tripping up MetalKabuterimon with his vines and roots. The thick forest that was forming around them was constantly getting burned away by stray attacks from BurningGreymon, whose attacks Mercurymon couldn’t always deflect.

            “Ugh, can’t you guys just hold still?” Gigasmon complained after getting hit by arrowheads and lasers. “This isn’t working!”

            “What else is new?” Petaldramon snapped just as his vines also snapped.

            Meanwhile, Koichi watched the battle from the tower’s roof. He clenched a fist as he watched the carnage unfurl, murmuring, “They’re getting killed out there.”

            By chance, his eyes strayed away from the battlefield and to the destruction beyond. Whole portions of land were missing; gaping holes marred the landscape, where Fractal Code had been absorbed. Much of the damage was too fresh to have come from his fight with Teruo, and those scars were barely visible with the contrast.

            “I let them do this,” he realized in horror. “I’m supposed to protect this world, and this place is tied to my Spirit. How did I just turn away?”

            An attack came at him suddenly, making him lose his grip. He hardly had the chance to register his terror before he fell. Something within him responded, giving him a will to fight. He turned himself around in time to see a Thunderbirmon flying underneath him. When he landed on the Digimon, he held on as tightly as he could, forcing him to crash through a window into the tower.

            Stone and mortar went flying into the Hall of Shadows as the wall exploded. Somehow or another, Koichi caught himself as he too went flying, landing on his feet while bent over to avoid losing his balance. Thunderbirmon awkwardly got back up, and Koichi watched as he was joined by five other Digimon: Stegomon, Quetzalmon, Flamedramon, Kabukimon, and Shurimon.

            “He shouldn’t have been a problem without a Spirit,” Quetzalmon declared.

            “Well, he won’t be a problem anymore,” Flamedramon decided, holding out one clawed hand and shouting, “Fire Rocket!”

            Three fireballs came straight at Koichi, who quickly ducked out of the way. Knowing he needed to get an advantage, he sprinted off.

            “Yeah, you better run!” Thunderbirmon mocked. “Come on, let’s get him.”

            “The chase is always the best part,” Stegomon agreed.

            Koichi silently cursed the wraiths as he ran through the labyrinth. They were usually impossible to avoid, but now he couldn’t seem to find them. And he couldn’t keep running too much longer. The Digimon were far faster than he was; it was only because he knew the layout that he was even able to get this far ahead. Attacks whizzed past him as he tried to run in a zigzag path to throw off their aim. Then at long last, he saw a Fractal Code screen. As soon as he got close enough to incite the wraith to reach out for him, he dropped to his knees and skidded underneath before running again. Though he didn’t look behind him, he could hear curses and attacks as his pursuers ran right into the shadowy claws.

            It was enough to slow them down, even if it didn’t stop them. More and more wraiths appeared to hamper them, giving Koichi time to race up and down several staircases throughout the labyrinth until he finally reached the Hall of Spirits. His D-tector sat on a lone pedestal in the middle of the room, surrounded by the light of the elemental globes.

            In retrospect, it was too easy. Cherubimon was gone, the D-tector was just sitting there, and the room was unlocked. But Koichi had no time to think about any of that. Just as he took the D-tector, the Digimon burst into the room. All manner of attacks came at him, but they fell short. The globes on the pillars shone brightly with each attack: Flame for Flamedramon, Thunder for Thunderbirmon, Light for Quetzalmon, Earth for Stegomon, and Wood for Kabukimon and Shurimon.

            “They’re absorbing our attacks!” Shurimon realized.

            “Nice guess,” Koichi replied, leaping forward and planting a fist into Thunderbirmon’s skull.

            As soon as he jumped away from Thunderbirmon, Shurimon and Kabukimon surrounded him. They were reduced to physical attacks, but ever so often, a few leaves or cherry blossoms tried to swirl around him in a tornado, but they simply fell at his feet. It made the floor more slippery, but he decided to put it to his advantage by sliding out of the way of a strong double-team attack. The flowers and leaves also made the floor too slippery for the two Digimon to stop, so their attacks collided with one another, and Koichi scanned their code quickly as the other Digimon continued their assault.

            Stegomon came charging at him, so Koichi tricked him into trampling Flamedramon. Knowing that he couldn’t trick them into attacking each other anymore, he ran up Stegomon’s back and leapt at Thunderbirmon again. Expecting it, he threw him away with a wing. Koichi went flying toward the elemental globes, and he held out his D-tector. The sphere representing Darkness responded to him and lent him the power he needed to slingshot right into Thunderbirmon, throwing both him and Quetzalmon into the wall. Quetzalmon was destroyed on impact, but Thunderbirmon was thrown right outside the tower. Another similar attack threw Stegomon out too, where he fell to his death.

            “Stupid move,” Thunderbirmon declared. “Outside, my powers aren’t restrained.”

            “Neither are mine,” Koichi agreed, holding up a hand. His eyes were closed initially, but once his hand was in the air, he couldn’t help but peer up. The Fractal Code around his hand was for once silver, not black. Satisfied, he scanned it through his D-tector, shouting, “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            For once, the darkness didn’t hurt. For once, he realized what everyone meant when they said they weren’t afraid of it. A shadow couldn’t hurt anyone, and it could provide safety just as much as it could hide danger. It didn’t have to be the element of destruction. After all, the night provided a chance for all life to rest before the sun rose again. Maybe he could be a force for rebirth, he realized as something whispered Teppei’s earlier words in the back of his mind: “You are not alone.” He reflected on this as he announced his name: “Loewemon!”

            A staff formed in his hands, and he wasn’t too surprised to see that it was the same one he’d fought with against Duskmon in his subconscious during the Demon Lord crisis. As a lightning blast came at him, he twirled his staff rapidly to shield himself. The electricity soon dissipated, and he lowered the staff while allowing power to cycle through his armor. The lion’s head on his chest opened its mouth as he cried, “Shadow Meteor!” and fired a powerful blast of dark energy. Thunderbirmon went reeling back, and before he could recover, Loewemon had leapt from the tower and speared him on his Shadow Lance. A quick Fractal Code scan later, Loewemon was free-falling toward the battle.

            Though he couldn’t fly in this evolution, he at least knew how to control his fall. Rather than trying to land safely on his feet, he turned himself head-down and kept his arms in front of him and his staff straight. This sped his descent and made it all the more impressive when he suddenly flipped over to his feet in the middle of battle, brandished his staff, and started fighting off KendoGarurumon and Korikakumon.

            Gigasmon took one look at him in his new evolution and declared, “It is about freakin’ time you got here!”

            Loewemon laughed. “Sorry. Had an infestation to deal with.”

            “Yeah, well, don’t let it happen again.” As Loewemon gave him a look that he was pretty sure was a grin, he noticed KendoGarurumon open his mouth to fire a Lupine Laser. “Look out!”

            He barely had to warn him, though. As soon as the attack fired, Loewemon whipped around, forming a semi-transparent shield in front of him. Though it looked like it would barely hold up to anything, it neatly blocked the laser, giving him the opportunity to follow up with a strike from his staff.

            “Anything else you’d like to bring out?” Gigasmon asked, throwing Korikakumon across the battlefield. “Like a machine gun or something?”

            “Nope, I think that’s it,” he replied. “I haven’t even pulled out my Beast Spirit yet.”

            KendoGarurumon switched evolutions and attached his swords together to create a staff. Loewemon met it with his own, and began the test of strength. Lobomon was surprised by the force he met and pushed back harder.

            “You’re pretty strong,” he noted. “Especially for someone who thinks he’s good enough to be called a Legendary Warrior.”

            And to the shock of everyone around, Loewemon shoved him back easily before firing a Shadow Meteor at him, declaring, “I am a Legendary Warrior. I’m the Warrior of Darkness, and don’t forget it!”

            With that, the others on his team cheered. Their excitement, however, was cut off by a sound like thunder behind them. The battle forgotten on both sides, the ten Warriors turned to watch Cherubimon’s tower crumble and collapse in a cloud of dust.

 

This title, and the last comments between Koji and Koichi, comes from the first episode of Batman Beyond. Major battle inspiration (and indeed, three of the attackers) came from Digimon Savers while Doctor Who and Full Metal Alchemist lent a little inspiration to the others’ attempts to console Koichi. His nightmare, however, was inspired by Batman Begins, in which Thomas Wayne tries to comfort Bruce about the bats he fears. Teppei’s own fears came from a speech by Superman in Justice League Unlimited, and Teruo’s story is the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-two: “Heart of Ice”

            At first, everyone was silent when the tower fell. Just as the shock started to settle, Ophanimon’s Warriors began to cheer. Loewemon was the first to react, grabbing Lobomon by his scarf and glaring at him.

            “Do you have any idea what you just did?” he growled.

            “Yeah,” Lobomon answered. “We won. That’s what happened.”

            “What are Cherubimon’s Warriors without Cherubimon?” BurningGreymon asked.

            Rather than answer, the quintet raced to the fallen tower. Ophanimon’s Warriors were about to attack them when they felt the familiar thrill of their master’s power. Quickly, they formed their D-tectors.

            “Children, there is not much time,” Ophanimon warned. “You must leave immediately.”

            “Why are you calling us back?” BurningGreymon asked. “We have them!”

            “There is a danger within those ruins that you are not ready for,” she explained.

            “What’s in there?” Lobomon asked. “What’s so dangerous?”

            “It is an ancient evil that even the best of us couldn’t defeat,” Ophanimon answered. “We were forced to seal it away and hope it couldn’t escape. But now that we’ve destroyed its prison, it is hungry and will feed on the Fractal Code of whomever is foolish enough to get close. You must leave. Let it destroy your enemies while you gather your strength.”

            “That makes sense,” Zephyrmon confessed.

            “All right,” BurningGreymon agreed. “Let’s go.”

            They hated leaving work undone, but their master was right. It was better to let someone else take care of their enemies when the opportunity arose. When they got stronger, they would defeat the victor. Even if the other Warriors survived their fight, they would undoubtedly be horribly weakened and easy to destroy. Anyway, right now, they’d won a major victory. They deserved the chance to celebrate.

            The others, however, didn’t appear to notice that Ophanimon’s Warriors had left. They were far too busy trying to dig. The five master-less Warriors dug through the debris frantically, throwing everything aside without rhyme or reason in a desperate search to find someone alive and well. Nobody even thought that this could be a futile effort; everyone just held onto the hope that someone was in there and okay. After digging somewhere into the middle of the rubble, Ranamon caught a glimpse of a blue eggshell and froze.

            “Oh no,” she whispered in terror. She began digging even deeper and found a band of pink cloth attached to a body, which was soon followed by:

            “Move over, Neemon! You’re crushing me!”

            “You’re the one crushing me!”

            The two voices called everyone over, and soon Bokomon, Neemon, and Seraphimon’s digiegg were free. There was a great deal of relieved hugging, crying, and laughing before the kids finally devolved and managed to talk.

            “Leave it to you guys to make it out with barely a scratch,” Teppei declared breathlessly.

            “When the attack happened, Cherubimon tried to evacuate us,” Bokomon explained. “But the ceiling collapsed before we could get out.”

            “It was dark and scary in there,” Neemon added.

            “So what happened?” Teruo asked.

            And this got both Digimon in a frenzy. Despite their near death experience, they were frantically jumping up and down, yelling in terror everything that had happened.

            “Whoa, slow down!” Katsuharu interrupted. “We didn’t get a word of that.”

            It only took one word to explain everything, as Bokomon and Neemon cried, “Ophanimon!”

            “She appeared in the middle of the light chamber!”

            “But she really wasn’t there!”

            “She used some sort of projection to attack without any of us sensing her!”

            It was quickly becoming apparent that both Digimon were losing track of their explanation. Still, the kids got the gist of it despite the panic. Ophanimon had made her first appearance, sort of, and she’d gone after her old friend first.

            “Then what happened to Cherubimon?” Koichi asked.

            Bokomon and Neemon both looked down sadly, but it was Teppei who said, “Do you really have to ask?”

            “I’m afraid we never saw what happened,” Bokomon confessed, “but from the damage the assault caused and his own weakened condition from trying to repair the Spirits of Darkness…”

            Without another word, the group solemnly returned to the higher ground. It felt like the only right thing to do; to sift through the debris anymore would feel like they were disturbing a grave. It was after they’d devolved for a second time that Koichi remembered the Fractal Code he’d scanned and rendered it. Silently, they watched the ribbons of data fly off to restore some of the ravaged landscape. It was the only tribute they could give their mentor.

            “Well, come on then,” Katsuharu decided. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us.”

            There were murmurs of agreement behind him as they started out again. But no more than three feet later, something ambushed Koichi from behind, sending him flying into Katsuharu, whose flailing knocked over Chiaki, who collapsed onto Teruo, who wound up pushing over Teppei as he fell. Bokomon and Neemon stood off to the side, watching as Katsuharu shoved Koichi off of him.

            “What is your problem?” he asked.

            “Sorry,” he apologized, trying to get up. “Something pushed me.”

            At this point, the other three had untangled themselves and Teppei managed to look over at Koichi. He blinked for a second, then asked, “Uh, Koichi? You didn’t by any chance have a small furry little brown-and-pink thing attached to your back when you devolved last, did you?”

            “No,” Koichi answered. “But do you mind getting it off?”

            It took both Teruo and Teppei to pry the small Digimon off of Koichi’s back. Once the Digimon was in Teruo’s hands, the rest of the team examined him, their expressions ranging from curiosity to suspicion to confusion. The Digimon didn’t appear to mind at all, smiling back at them and giggling at the looks on some of their faces.

            “Who is this little guy?” Chiaki asked finally.

            “I’m Lopmon,” the Digimon replied. “You’re funny.”

            “Okay…” Katsuharu said. “But where did you come from?”

            “Does it really matter?” Teppei complained. “We’re just collecting mascots like crazy here. Can we please just go find some way to replace all the supplies we lost?”

            Reminded of all their losses that day, the kids and Bokomon and Neemon sagged. Lopmon looked up at them, about to ask what was wrong when suddenly, he dug his tiny claws into Teruo’s arms. Teruo was so focused on the sudden pain and trying to pry Lopmon from his arms that he didn’t notice the ice forming underneath his feet until he lost his balance and slipped backward.

            “Teruo!” Chiaki cried, trying not to slip herself. “Are you okay?”

            “Yeah,” he answered. “I just need some help getting up.”

            The others got behind him and helped pull him to his feet, all the while trying to maintain their balance on the slippery ground. Teppei looked at the icy ground and asked, “Where did that come from?”

            “Not good!” Lopmon declared, shivering in Teruo’s arms. “We have to get out of here!”

            “What is going on?” Koichi asked.

            Ice spires tore up the ground, and a white demon rose from the chasm that had once housed the tower. Teppei shot Koichi a look and said, “I think that answers your question.”

            “So you’re the ones who freed me from that prison?” the newcomer asked. “You have my gratitude, but I’m confused: you’re humans, are you not?”

            The kids shot each other cautious looks before Chiaki finally answered, “Yeah. What’s it to you?”

            “Hold on, missy,” the Digimon replied. “I’m just surprised that humans could evolve to Digimon, much less this strong. Tell me, do you have tasty data? I’m famished. Those others I just had were nowhere near enough.”

            Everyone came to the same conclusion at once: whoever this guy was, he’d absorbed the Fractal Code of the wraiths from the Hall of Shadows, and now he was after theirs. Furthermore, he was absolutely off his rocker. Katsuharu wasted no time shouting, “Bokomon, info-dump now!”

            “You’re not going to like this!” he exclaimed, already hiding as far away from the battlefield as he could manage. “This is IceDevimon, and it says here that he went on a rampage all across the Digital World, massacring all the Digimon he came across. And even though he’s only a Champion, he was too strong for even Cherubimon to beat, so the Three Great Angels were forced to gather their finest to imprison him.”

            “And the prison was underneath the tower,” Katsuharu realized.

            “He could have warned us beforehand!” Teppei yelled.

            “I told you it was bad,” Lopmon insisted.

            “Koichi, how’s that new Beast Spirit of yours?” Katsuharu asked, already reaching in his pocket for his D-tector. “We’re going to need all of them now, and I’m bad enough as it is against ice.”

            “After Velgemon, I think I can handle anything,” he decided. “Whatever I’ve got is going to be a kitten compared to him.”

            “Okay, good,” Katsuharu replied. “Let’s go for it, then.”

            Three hands held silver globes of Fractal Code while the fourth and fifth had a ring. As they all evolved, they noticed that the initial Beast Spirit Evolution didn’t make Koichi scream in pain, as it had for all the others. Whatever this one had to offer, it was far less intense than Velgemon, allowing him to coexist with the darkness rather than be overpowered by it.

            But even though the evolution was less intense, JagerLoewemon was definitely no less powerful than his corrupted counterpart. The power didn’t bleed off of him as it had with Velgemon; rather, it was very well controlled. IceDevimon seemed to sense it, because he said, “Hmm, impressive, but not exactly good enough. You see, I’m the strongest Digimon that ever existed. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to eat your data. I never turn down a free meal.”

            “Less talking, more hitting?” Gigasmon guessed with a glance toward Ranamon.

            “Funny, that’s exactly what I was going to say,” she answered.

            Without wasting any more time, they charged at him, but IceDevimon easily flew up to avoid them. But while he was in the air, he flapped his wings and sent a freezing wind at them. Ranamon and JagerLoewemon leapt out of the way easily enough and Mercurymon teleported to safety, but Gigasmon and Petaldramon were hit head-on.

            “How did I fall for that?” Petaldramon asked, frozen to the spot. “How?”

            Gigasmon smashed through the ice surrounding him and rushed over to shatter what was holding down his friend, insisting, “Quit whining about it and fight back already!”

            “You’re amusing, I must admit,” IceDevimon said, “and I’m torn on what to do now. Should I just eat you now or play with you some more to work up my appetite?”

            “You’re sick!” Ranamon cried.

            Ice spikes came toward her, and she flipped out of the way. Mercurymon held up his shields to block, taking care of the ice while the others rained attacks down. A combination of Dark Vapor and Leaf Cyclone blew at IceDevimon, who flapped his wings to try and steer it off course. A quick shot to the back with JagerLoewemon’s Ebony Blast threw his aim off, however, allowing the cyclone to hit its mark. When an angry IceDevimon turned to try and retaliate against JagerLoewemon, he was promptly introduced to Gigasmon’s fists.

            “I see,” he realized. “Your power comes from your teamwork. So let’s see how good you are without each other.”

            He blasted ice beams from his eyes directly at Mercurymon, who blocked out of instinct. It was a huge mistake—ice formed all over his mirrors, impossible to break off without breaking the mirrors themselves. The reflections were misty and refracted, making it impossible for him to fight. He looked up in shock, the horror slowly dawning on him. But before he could even attempt to defend himself, IceDevimon hit him hard with a claw, throwing him into a spire of ice. It shattered, and he fell to the ground and devolved.

            “And to make it even more fun…” IceDevimon added, firing an ice bolt at Teruo’s D-tector. It froze over before dying. “Now you can’t evolve again. Makes it all the easier to eat you.”

            “Not a chance,” Ranamon said, forming a storm cloud over his head. But all he had to do was fire one blast at it, and the rain became snow.

            “Trying to protect your friend?” he noticed. “Such nobility is useless. You only get yourself killed, like so.”

            Thorny ice growths rose from the ground. Ranamon leapt backwards to avoid them, but they caught her as she landed, pinning her to the ground. She had no choice but to devolve, and soon her D-tector also froze.

            “I hear you feel warm before freezing, but no one’s ever lived long enough for me to ask,” IceDevimon mused. “Let’s find out.”

            His twisted experiment was cut off by Gigasmon and JagerLoewemon slamming into him from behind. Another Leaf Cyclone hit him from the front while Gigasmon and JagerLoewemon continued their assault from behind. It bought Teruo enough time to make his way over to Chiaki and start trying to break the ice already around her.

            Petaldramon drove his tail into the ground and tried his hardest not to wince at the cold. Roots and vines tunneled through to the warm earth beneath the frost before turning around to penetrate the ice again. It didn’t take long for him to realize he had a major problem. The parts of his roots that were still in the frost were freezing, and the warmer roots that were partially in the soil were dying too. Nothing could get out either way.

            “You know, this could be fun,” IceDevimon decided. “I wonder how hard I can hit you before your tail breaks.”

            Petaldramon frantically tried to pull himself free but to no avail. IceDevimon brought him up on his hind legs with one swipe of his claws and sent him falling backward with another. There was a hideous crack as the tough wood of his tail broke. To his credit, though, part of that was intentional: knowing that he needed to escape, he yanked at the same time IceDevimon threw him back. He curled up and blew a Leaf Cyclone at IceDevimon, catching him off-guard.

            “Guys,” he declared, taking the opportunity to devolve, “I’m useless here. It’s up to you.”

            JagerLoewemon got in front of him so he could take cover with Chiaki and Teruo without worrying about being attacked. Gigasmon landed a few more punches on IceDevimon and muttered, “Yeah, thanks. No pressure, right?”

            “Any ideas?” JagerLoewemon asked.

            “You’re asking me?”

            Before either could say anything, IceDevimon flew just above them and said, “Seriously, you’ve been fun, but I really am hungry. And it’s so much easier to get a snack I don’t have to unwrap.”

            As he moved closer to the other three, JagerLoewemon started running for him, the rubies on his armor glowing as a shadowy aura formed around him. With a shout of “Dark Master!” he charged at him, intending to claw right through. Instead, he bounced right off the iceman’s body.

            “That was my strongest attack and even it didn’t do anything!” he declared in shock.

            Frowning, Gigasmon gave IceDevimon a critical look and spotted a fracture in the ice that Koichi hadn’t noticed. “Actually, it did more than you think.”

            “If you’re so eager to be my first meal, I suppose I can’t resist,” IceDevimon decided. He held a hand out toward the unarmed Warriors and formed a cold dome around them. “To be sure my tasty treats don’t run off, I’m keeping them here for storage. Plus it keeps them nice and refrigerated.”

            Seeing that JagerLoewemon was seething in rage over their friends’ helpless condition, Gigasmon whispered, “Koichi, get it together! Believe it or not, I have a plan.”

            “Of course,” IceDevimon cut in, “if you try anything, I’ll be forced to freeze them.” Then with a cruel smirk, he added, “In fact, I might just do that anyway!”

            Once again, thorny ice growths formed from the snow and wrapped around the trio. They couldn’t hold back their screams as the hard cold bit into them. With this newfound threat to their friends, Gigasmon and JagerLoewemon threw away any pretense of being calm and collected and just threw themselves at IceDevimon. While JagerLoewemon concentrated on breaking open the ice dome, Gigasmon repeatedly drove his fists into the fissure in IceDevimon’s back. He finally managed a decent-sized dent that made IceDevimon howl and throw him off.

            He landed next to JagerLoewemon, who had just freed the others and sent them off. Getting back into a battle stance, JagerLoewemon said, “So, Teppei, happy now that you’ve got a chance to show what you’re made of?”

            “Surprisingly, I am,” Gigasmon admitted. “That attack you made put a crack in his body, and I just made it a lot bigger. All we need to do is hit it hard enough to break him up completely. Think you can manage that again? Your Dark Master really did the trick last time.”

            Dodging an ice beam and responding with an Ebony Blast, he answered, “I don’t think so. It’s too precise a target, and I’m too new at this to hit it just right.”

            Gigasmon finished off a Quagmire Twister and gave him an incredulous look. “Tell me you’re not saying what I think you’re saying.”

            “You said it yourself—your control is a hundred times better than mine because it has to be. Now quit arguing and just attack already!”

            Gigasmon made a face. “You’re hanging around Chiaki too much. And in any case, I’m going to kill you for this.”

            JagerLoewemon charged IceDevimon, who half-turned and swiped at him with a claw. Just like Teruo before him, he hit a spire of ice and broke right through. This spire just happened to be the one Bokomon, Neemon, and Lopmon were hiding behind. Something about seeing Koichi take such a hard blow affected Lopmon badly, as he leapt out from hiding and cried, “Blazing Ice!” firing tiny shots of ice at IceDevimon.

            “Huh, looks like another volunteer,” IceDevimon said. “It’s so nice having my dinner just walk onto my plate like this. Really, small fry, do you think that your puny little ice bullets could do anything against me?”

            Lopmon’s attack was just the distraction Gigasmon needed. IceDevimon’s back was to him, so with the most precise control he’d ever needed, Gigasmon spun in a Quagmire Twister, letting go of all restraints on his strength while keeping his course steady. It was only when he heard the satisfying cracks as fractures spread out from the impact zone to all over IceDevimon’s body did he respond, “Maybe he couldn’t, but I think that just did.”

            IceDevimon flew over to attack him, but Gigasmon crossed his arms and stood his ground. He had a smug grin on his face when IceDevimon’s body suddenly—and quite literally—fell to pieces, the fractures too deep and too many for the ice to hold together. Gigasmon whipped out his D-tector and scanned the Fractal Code that appeared before finally devolving and running over to his friends.

            Koichi had made it over to the others, shaken up but otherwise all right. Seeing the look he got from Teppei, he answered, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your chance to kill me. I must have gotten lucky and not gotten hit that bad.”

            “Very lucky,” Chiaki said in a warning tone.

            “Hold on there,” Teppei insisted. “He’s mine to kill, remember?” But when Koichi flashed him a sheepish grin, he amended, “But that can wait until we’re out of here. I’m freezing!”

            Almost on cue, the ice started to melt and evaporate. While the others started to stifle grins and giggles, Katsuharu remarked, “You were saying?”

            “Anyway,” Teppei replied, “it’s a good thing that Lopmon distracted IceDevimon for me—not that I’m happy the little guy put himself into danger like that.”

            Lopmon jumped onto Koichi’s head, throwing him off-balance until the small Digimon lay down. “You needed help and Koichi got hit. I had to help.”

            “Kind of protective of us, aren’t you?” Koichi asked.

            Teruo’s eyes widened as he declared, “No, it couldn’t be… Could it? But how? He didn’t… But still, that bond and the reaction…”

            “Whoa, Teruo, mind running that by for those of us whose brains don’t go a mile a minute?” Katsuharu asked.

            Still with a shocked look on his face, he answered, “I think Lopmon is Cherubimon.”

            The reaction was immediate and explosive. With several cries of “What?” and “Are you kidding?” the kids and Bokomon and Neemon turned on Teruo as he stammered out his justifications.

            “How would that even happen?” Chiaki demanded. “Why was there no digiegg? We’re still waiting for Seraphimon’s to hatch!”

            “But I had to scan his Code,” Teruo reminded her. “Ophanimon might not have gotten to Cherubimon’s and the leftover let him hatch fast. Or… Wait, we had all ten elements there, so it might have reacted with those orbs in the Hall of Spirits and done something. You can’t deny our Spirits don’t have powers we don’t understand. Combined, they’ve got to be able to do a lot of things.”

            Katsuharu shook his head. “I don’t know if I quite buy that, but even I’ve got to admit there’s way too much about this world that we’ll never understand.”

            “All of the evidence does seem to point in the same direction, though,” Bokomon admitted. “Lopmon is most definitely Cherubimon’s regeneration. How exactly it happened, we may never know, but this we can at least accept.”

            “So now what?” Chiaki asked. “We’ve got nowhere to go. Our home base is destroyed, and Ophanimon’s not afraid to come out anymore. What do we do? Where do we go?”

            “And what are we?” Teppei added. “Takuya was right back there. We can’t call ourselves Cherubimon’s Warriors—Cherubimon’s Lopmon now. And ‘Lopmon’s Warriors’ doesn’t exactly strike fear in the heart of evil; it doesn’t scream ‘I am vengeance, I am the night!’”

            “Then what about the Legendary Warriors?” Teruo suggested.

            “I don’t know if we’re really all that legendary,” Katsuharu confessed. “Look at our track record: a stolen Spirit, a disaster from two massively corrupted Spirits, possession by Demon Lords, friendly fire every other battle… I don’t think that’s all that heroic.” The kids looked down in shame. How could they possibly carry such a name with this kind of record?

            “If that’s how you feel,” Bokomon cut in, “then this is what I see: five human children who chose to save another world rather than go back home to their safe, peaceful lives. A leader who takes the time to listen to everyone around him, a girl so driven that she keeps fighting even when everything has gone wrong for her, a boy who lets people underestimate him just for the surprise when he shows what he’s really made of, a human boy who is the only one who could purify two corrupted Spirits and never let his dark heart overwhelm him, and a boy who has had everything going against him yet has risen to the challenge and even defeated Seraphimon, a Demon Lord, and his own best friend. If that’s not legendary, I don’t know what is.” Here, they smiled at the compliments. Not one of them had thought of it this way, but it made sense when Bokomon said it. They were stronger than they thought.

            “Thanks,” Chiaki said. “I think we all really needed to hear that today.”

            “Well, of course,” Bokomon replied. “It’s all true, so don’t forget it.”

            “Come on, guys,” Katsuharu decided. “Let’s find some place to relax. I think we need a break.”

            “You said it,” Teppei agreed, to everyone’s enthusiastic nods.

            And so the Legendary Warriors followed their leader beyond the wasteland to whatever refuge they could find.

 

This chapter’s title comes from Mr. Freeze’s first appearance on Batman: The Animated Series. I admit that the term “regeneration” in reference to Lopmon comes from Doctor Who, but it also has a theological connotation as well, and it still works in any case. Major thanks to Shaun Garin for help with the battle, as this chapter was hell to write. IceDevimon didn’t do a whole lot in the ways of attacking in canon, so I was forced to pull from the Tamers variant. How exactly this turned into a Teppei chapter, I’ll never know, but I am pleased with the turn of events.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-three: “Soul of the Guardian”

            There was a small oasis in the wasteland where the Legendary Warriors finally stopped to rest after a very long trek. While it didn’t have much that they could use to replace their destroyed supplies, it had enough food and water to sate them for the time being. When they were full, they took the opportunity to wade in the water and wash up. Chiaki got out quickly, still feeling the chill from the earlier battle with IceDevimon, so once she was gone, the boys pulled off their clothes and took a bath. It promptly turned into a splash fest when Teppei decided to make good on his promise to kill Koichi and started wrestling him in the water.

            From some distance away, Chiaki listened to the shouts and splashes and shook her head. Really, the guys were great friends, but as they were boys, there were still things about them that would drive her crazy. These thoughts distracted her so much that when a Falcomon suddenly took flight from the tree nearby, she shrieked.

            The scream summoned the boys, already evolved and in record time. Though still trying to catch her breath, Chiaki waved them off and said, “It’s okay, it just startled me. That’s all.”

            They visibly relaxed but did not devolve. Arbormon muttered, “We were carefree just yesterday, and now we’re paranoid as hell. How long is this going to last?”

            “No idea,” Grumblemon agreed.

            “Uh, guys?” Chiaki asked. “Is there any reason you’re all still evolved? It’s not like there’s any danger.”

            And here, all four of them started to look extremely nervous. When no one else could find his voice, Katsuharu answered, “Well, you see, we didn’t think this through all the way and we didn’t exactly have the time to change…”

            Chiaki gave them a shocked glare as her cheeks burned bright pink. “Back in the water,” she gasped. “Now!”

            It took them no more than ten seconds to run back to the lake, jump in, and devolve, and not necessarily in that order. Bokomon, Neemon, and Lopmon stared on as Teppei declared, “Well, I’m all for pretending this never happened. Anyone else with me?”

            “I’m just going to try and drown myself now,” Koichi replied and sunk into the water.

            “Me too,” Teruo agreed before following suit.

            “What’s wrong?” Lopmon asked. “Why are your faces all red?”

            “It’s a confusing rule about humans,” Bokomon explained. “For some reason, boys and girls become very embarrassed if they’re disrobed around the opposite gender. It’s an odd taboo, but I’ve learned to accept it after the first time Zoë lost her temper over it.”

            Teruo surfaced after a minute, panting and sputtering. Koichi followed soon after, looking a little better than before, but still fairly red. Lopmon, having given up on trying to understand silly human customs, flew over and plopped down on Koichi’s head. The sudden added weight nearly made him fall back under, but he quickly caught himself and managed to stay upright.

            “Okay, now what is up with that?” Katsuharu asked. “Why always sit on Koichi’s head?”

            “It feels comfy, that’s why!” Lopmon giggled.

            Koichi merely shrugged. “It’s weird. Before, I used to be able to talk Cherubimon into letting me do a lot of things I shouldn’t, probably because he felt guilty for giving me that Spirit.”

            “So you’re saying it’s karma?” Teppei guessed.

            “I don’t know,” Koichi answered. “Maybe.”

            “Well, at least it’s not me this time,” Teppei replied. “I’ve had enough of it, thank you very much.”

            After a while, they got out and changed into still-damp clothes. Chiaki had made a fire to ward off the chill, and the others started to head over. Koichi, however, put his hand on Teruo’s shoulder to stop him.

            “Mind if I ask you something in private?” he asked.

            “Sure, no problem,” Teruo answered cautiously, worried as to what could be the problem.

            They waited until the others were out of earshot before Koichi asked, “Does it bother you that Loewemon has a shield?”

            “What?” Teruo asked in surprise.

            “I know it sounds like a stupid question, but I remember how you were when I was still Duskmon and I learned how to absorb attacks. Not all of that envy was the Demon Lord, right?”

            Teruo sighed and nodded. “Right.”

            “I just want to be sure you’re okay with this. I really can’t do anything about what powers and weapons my Digimon forms have.”

            “Koichi, it’s okay,” Teruo insisted. “Yeah, I was upset the last time our powers intersected. It’s only been a few weeks, but I think I’m in a better place now than I was back there. I’ve seen what it’s like inside your head, and I’ve fought you when you lost control. I don’t envy you as much as I used to. I’ve really gotten to a place where I honestly think you’re my closest friend.”

            Relief dawned on Koichi’s face, and he smiled. “Thanks.”

            “And I’m glad you’ve got weapons you don’t have to feel ashamed of. I know you hated those swords. I can’t speak for a staff, but I know a shield definitely feels less destructive.”

            They walked back over to the others and sat around the fire, grateful for the warmth. But no sooner had they sat down when Chiaki asked, “Hey, what took you so long?”

            “Nothing big,” Teruo answered, holding his hands out to the fire.

            Chiaki wanted to ask, but she respected their privacy. “Okay, then. We’d better figure out what to do next.”

            “We should try and find that last Spirit,” Katsuharu said, “but honestly, I’m not so sure that’s a great idea. All of our supplies were destroyed with the tower, so we don’t have any food or bandages or anything. If we get beat up looking for it, we’re through.”

            “Lopmon, do you know any settlements around here that might be able to help?” Teruo asked.

            Lopmon shook his head. “Sorry. Wish I could help.”

            “Well, it was worth a shot,” Katsuharu admitted. “Any other ideas?”

            The others shook their heads. With no known villages to get supplies from, they would have to risk searching the entire continent or trying to escape. Either way, they were no longer safe, and the longer they sat on their hands and waited, the sooner Ophanimon’s Warriors would find them and finish them off.

            Teruo’s D-tector suddenly started to beep weakly, and he fished it out of his pocket. As the others started to gather around him, he held it out and said, “I think this settles it.”

            “Yeah,” Katsuharu agreed reluctantly. “Let’s go get it then.”

            ~~~

            The journey was longer than they’d expected, taking a few days to cross the wastelands. To cut down on time, they often evolved into their faster Digimon forms, but that took a lot out of them, forcing them to stop and forage for food more and more. It was possibly the third or fourth day when they finally reached rough terrain filled with crags and canyons. The enormous Beast Spirit of Steel floated above the waste, a somehow imposing contrast in green against the colorless landscape.

            “You know, I was going to ask how Teruo was getting signals from that far away, but looking at that, I’m not surprised,” Teppei said.

            “I didn’t think any of them could get that big,” Koichi confessed.

            “You think someone might have evolved already?” Chiaki asked.

            “Probably not,” Bokomon replied. “If they had, we would have been attacked already.”

            “Good point,” Katsuharu agreed. “But look at it!”

            Teruo blinked and gave the Spirit a second look. “Is that a Tree of Life?”

            “Where? I don’t see any trees,” Neemon declared.

            “As much as I hate to say this, I agree with Neemon,” Bokomon said. “The Spirit looks nothing like a tree.”

            “Not literally,” Teruo amended. “I don’t know what it’s really called, but it’s a version of a Tree of Life. It’s some kind of representation—probably from mythology. Science fiction uses it a lot, I think.”

            “Hate to interrupt, but it looks like we’ve got trouble.” Koichi pointed out Ophanimon’s Warriors on the other side of the wastelands, quickly approaching the Spirit.

            Without wasting another second, the kids evolved and rushed over, leaving Bokomon, Neemon, and Lopmon to trail behind trying to follow them. When they arrived, they immediately got into fighting stances, ready to do whatever it took to get the Spirit before the other side could take it from them. But as they glared at each other, Gigasmon took one look at Zephyrmon and grinned.

            “Hi, honey!” he cried. “Did you reconsider my offer? I promise I won’t disappoint you.”

            Ranamon burst into uncontrollable laughter while an enraged Zephyrmon attacked Gigasmon. But instead of running into battle like they normally would, the remaining Warriors just gave each other confused looks.

            “Do you have any idea what that’s about?” BurningGreymon asked.

            “I don’t think I want to know,” JagerLoewemon decided.

            “Agreed,” KendoGarurumon answered, to everyone else’s enthusiastic nods.

            It didn’t take too long for Ranamon to regain control over her laughter, and the battle commenced for real. Still, she giggled a bit while fighting Zephyrmon, which only set off the Warrior of Wind and made her viciously attack without any regard for herself. While Chiaki was taking hits, Zoë was too mad to realize that she was running into constant Draining Rains. The steady power drain, however, did not appear to be weakening her temper, and she relentlessly continued her attacks.

            Still wearing an incredibly smug grin on his face, Gigasmon matched Korikakumon attack-for-attack, blocking axes and following up with punches. He showed no hint of the power it had taken to destroy IceDevimon—rather, he was content to pretend he’d simply gotten lucky. Meanwhile, Petaldramon’s roots and vines transformed the wasteland into a small jungle as he tried to hold off MetalKabuterimon’s attacks. Leaf Cyclones were fairly ineffective, as MetalKabuterimon was patterned off a tank. But the rough terrain threatened to turn him over, forcing him to constantly face the choice whether or not to change evolutions. The wood also gave the agile JagerLoewemon locations to snipe from before leaping down to attack KendoGarurumon. Koji’s speed was more than a match for Koichi’s agility and power, but the terrain slowed him down, giving Koichi a definite edge.

            On Mercurymon’s front, however, he tried to deflect fire attacks while looking for an opening to seize his Beast Spirit. Sadly, he was having a hard time doing both. While ice was probably his worst element (sans, of course, lightning), now that he’d faced IceDevimon, he still had a fear of fire. The burn marks on his arms still gave him phantom aches when he remembered his first confrontation with BurningGreymon. And while he’d certainly grown stronger since, he knew he would never be strong enough to win in this form. Takuya was just too powerful.

            “Could use a little help,” Mercurymon admitted when Ranamon came close enough.

            She quickly moved a rain-cloud over BurningGreymon’s head and let a downpour of water rush out. As it drained his powers and diminished his flames, she readied her Dark Vapor. It worked far better than she’d expected, as he was covered from head to claw in metallic armor that while fireproof, was not acid-proof. It burned right through and hit his skin, making him roar in agony.

            “Takuya!” Zephyrmon cried, racing into action. A Hurricane Gale blew Ranamon aside while she hurried to her leader’s side. Mercurymon helped Ranamon to her feet as she rubbed her head.

            “What was that about?” he asked.

            “No idea,” she confessed.

            The others had drawn closer to them to be sure she was all right. Hearing this, JagerLoewemon added, “I saw this before when I fought them. I don’t know what’s going on either.”

            At this point, Petaldramon found his opening to overturn MetalKabuterimon, crying out, “Hey, you going to keep your head in the game or what?” The large Digimon rolled over onto his side and had no other choice but to switch to his Human Spirit, much more vulnerable to Petaldramon’s Leaf Cyclone. While still hovering in midair, the tornado blew him several feet away, preventing him from getting in an attack.

            As though he and Katsuharu were passing signals to one another, Gigasmon grabbed Korikakumon by the hair and swung him around before letting him fly at the recovering Beetlemon. This left him free to take on BurningGreymon, shouting at Mercurymon, “Here’s your chance!”

            “Right,” he agreed, activating his D-tector.

            He held it out to the Beast Spirit, expecting the same old reaction everyone always got: a shine from the digivice, a rush of power, and the sensation of the Spirit becoming in tune with his mind. It never came. Instead, the Spirit started to glow, which soon caught everyone’s attention. Teruo just had the chance to say, “That’s not good,” before several of the spheres fired beams at them and they vanished.

            Bokomon, Neemon, and Lopmon stared in shock when they finally arrived. Then, not sure that he believed what he’d seen, Neemon snapped his own pants and cried out from pain.

            “That hurt!” he yelled.

            “Unfortunately, Neemon, it looks like this is no dream,” Bokomon realized. “They’re all gone!”

            “But where’d they go?” Lopmon asked.

            ~~~

            Katsuharu sat up and rubbed his head. Once the world stopped spinning, he’d figure out why he’d devolved; for now, he had a bruise on the back of his head and a bad case of vertigo.

            “Well, that was weird,” he muttered. “Everyone else okay?”

            He was met with silence. Startled, he stood up quickly, forgetting about his dizziness and nearly falling over. When he was sure he wouldn’t be sick, he looked around. It looked like he was still on the Continent of Darkness, somewhere in the forest. But no one was in sight. He activated the compass on his D-tector to try and pinpoint them, but nothing appeared on the globe. As far as he could tell, he was alone.

            Lightning flashed overhead, followed quickly by thunder. Katsuharu looked up at the sky and saw black storm clouds rolling in fast.

            “I really don’t like where this is going,” he decided.

            ~~~

            There was a gigantic splash as Chiaki landed in a lake head-first. Instincts and adrenaline kicked in, and she frantically swam to the surface to avoid drowning or knocking herself unconscious on the lakebed. When she broke through, she was surprised to see sunlight. The sky was a beautiful bright blue, without a cloud in sight.

            She swam to shore and wrung her clothes out while looking out at the scenery. She was in a clearing in a forest somewhere, and wildflowers grew throughout. It looked like a place her school would have taken her on a camping trip.

            “It’s pretty,” she admitted, “but that doesn’t do me any good if I don’t know where I am.”

            She started to take out her D-tector to call the others but decided against it. She was just as capable as anyone else. If she didn’t know where she was or where the others were, she could figure it out just fine on her own.

            ~~~

            “A stadium?” Teppei asked once he was in a fit state to check his surroundings.

            Indeed, the valley below him looked exactly like a coliseum. The sloped sides were the stadium seats where the audience watched the action unfold in the central arena. The only thing it was missing was people: an audience and competitors.

            “This is a set-up,” he muttered as he walked toward the arena.

            It was obvious that he was meant to be the show and not the spectator—why else would someone go through all the trouble to set up this elaborate arrangement? He walked down loudly, half-stomping just so he could give himself something to listen to. This silence was just eerie. Why was no one here? Why didn’t he have a fight arranged? Why weren’t his friends around to talk him out of this?

            “Okay, I’m here,” he declared once he reached the center. “What do you want now?”

            There was no answer. All around him were mute, dead rocks. Whoever or whatever had brought him here wasn’t going to speak up without a fight, a battle of patience. He wasn’t sure he wouldn’t be the one to crack first.

            ~~~

            Like Katsuharu, Koichi found himself in darkness. Unlike him, however, he could tell that this was not the Continent. Everything was featureless and black, and even his vision couldn’t penetrate the shadows. He couldn’t tell how big the field was, but it still gave him a feeling of claustrophobia. Being surrounded by darkness this completely reminded him far too much of his old Spirits.

            The smart thing to do would be to call the others and ask where they were. If they were nearby, he could be able to find them by hearing them. If they weren’t, then he could at least get an idea what had happened and how to get to them. But instinct was telling him not to risk speaking and give away his location. He couldn’t prove it, but he knew someone was in there with him. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He’d learned to listen to this feeling while trailing Koji, and it had never steered him wrong. In fact, each time, it had kept him from getting caught by family members or nosy neighbors. Teruo would probably call it a spy’s instinct, and Koichi would have to agree with the name.

            He kept his D-tector in hand, just in case. He tried to get control of his breathing and force himself to calm down. Though he couldn’t see what he was walking on, the ground felt firm beneath his feet, so he treaded lightly. It would do him no good to let an echo give him away. Let whomever else that was here be caught off-guard. He was going to be ready for whatever was waiting in the shadows.

            ~~~

            Teruo stumbled and nearly fell when he was thrown into his area. Just as he regained his balance, he felt something close behind him, like a door or window shutting. He barely had time to turn and see what looked like a gigantic eyeball vanish, trapping him wherever he was.

            “Wherever He Was” happened to be a country full of metal obelisks and mirrors. He walked around, staring up at everything. He’d never found a stranger place in the entire Digital World. But as he walked, he realized the same as Koichi: that he was not alone.

            The difference was that Teruo could see who was there, and they could see him. Seeing that he was surrounded on all sides, he reached for his D-tector, only for an Asuramon to hold up his four hands in a gesture of peace, one of his three faces displayed with a distressed look and a blue mask.

            “We don’t wish to harm you,” he insisted. “We’re only here to help.”

            “Why?” Teruo asked, not letting go. “And where am I? What have you done to my friends?”

            “Brave words,” a Karatenmon observed. “You seem far more assertive once separated from your companions. In fact, they’ve only just crossed your mind. On some level, you like it, don’t you? Now you have the chance to stand up for yourself rather than let the others defend you before you have the chance to try.”

            Teruo felt the blood drain from his face, but he managed a halfway decent glare in Karatenmon’s direction. Still, the words cut deeply. Somehow or another, Karatenmon had gotten into his head and peered into the dark thoughts he’d always been so careful not to share.

            “Give me one more reason to evolve,” he threatened, once he found his voice again.

            “Tough talk coming from you,” a Volcamon said, but he was quickly shut up by the glares from his companions.

            “Rest assured,” an IceLeomon insisted, “we will do no harm to you or your friends, Master.”

            Teruo barely felt the relief before a key word in that statement hit him. “Master? What do you mean by Master?”

            “We are the guardians of the elemental worlds,” Karatenmon explained. “We are bound to you through the will of Sakkakumon.”

            “Sakkakumon?”

            “The Spirit,” Asuramon replied, his face now bearing a kind expression and a yellow mask. “While the Spirits have no souls or minds of their own, they retain a lingering will. This limited sentience is what allows them to either choose or reject bearers. As we are extensions of the Spirit’s Fractal Code, we serve whomever the Spirit chooses.”

            Teruo blinked. “I don’t know if I get it…”

            “Put simply, we are its guardians,” Karatenmon answered. “There are miniature worlds contained within each of the Spirit’s spheres, and each of us guards the one corresponding to our element. I guard the Wind Sphere, Asuramon is the guardian for Flame, Cherrymon has the Wood Sphere, Parrotmon the Thunder Sphere, IceLeomon the Ice Sphere, and Volcamon the Earth Sphere.”

            “The ten elements,” Teruo recognized, finally relaxing. “But wait—there’s only six of you. Who have Light, Darkness, Water, and Steel?”

            “Steel must be protected by its Spirit’s Warrior,” IceLeomon explained. “And you have already subconsciously chosen the guardians of Water and Darkness.”

            “Chiaki and Koichi,” Teruo murmured, nodding. That made sense; they were the two closest people in the world to him. Another thought hit him, and he looked at the guardians in shock. “But what about Light? Don’t tell me I chose Koichi’s brother to guard that!”

            “No one’s guarding Light,” Cherrymon explained. “The Spirit never created anyone for it.”

            “With any luck, we won’t have a reason for one,” Asuramon added. “Right now, the other Warriors should be battling your friends.”

            “Then why are you all here?” Teruo demanded. “Why am I even here? Why isn’t this just like any other Spirit—you scan it and you wrestle with its power. Why does it have to be backwards? My friends could be hurt because of it!”

            “They’re not completely without an advantage,” Karatenmon assured him. “Each of your friends is in the field corresponding to their Spirit. In any case, the battle against the Spirit will be one of wills. We are here to prepare you.”

            “No one else got this,” Teruo argued. “Koichi definitely didn’t, and his was the worst.”

            “But his was only one element,” Karatenmon warned. “Sakkakumon embodies ten in one, united in Steel. Normally, the Human Spirit increases wisdom and the Beast Spirit strength. Sakkakumon values both, but even more so in wisdom. You must be careful not to let it overpower you.”

            Teruo’s patience had long since run out. “I know what the Spirits are capable of! I’ve watched it in all of my friends. And now, when they need me, you’re keeping me from them! You’re supposed to be bound to my will, so why can’t you just listen to me and help me help them?”

            Before anyone could answer, an explosion cut them off. Parrotmon growled and declared, “He’s here,” signaling the other guardians to ready themselves for the attack.

            Teruo didn’t need to ask who it was. Agunimon stepped out of the smoke and dust soon enough. He took stock of the guardians and asked, “Hiding behind the strong again, Teruo? I’d almost thought you’d grown before, but now I see I was mistaken. You’re just the same little weakling you’ve always been, too afraid to defend yourself.”

            Teruo quickly pulled out his D-tector and was about to scan his Fractal Code through when the guardians ran in for the attack. Before he could even attempt to do a thing, Cherrymon launched explosive cherries at Agunimon while Volcamon held him prone with a sonic attack. Finally, he managed to counterattack, blasting Pyro Darts at Cherrymon’s little bombs to detonate them in the air while he escaped. He charged up his Pyro Punch, but those were quickly met by IceLeomon’s attacks. A large growth of ice popped up right beneath Agunimon, throwing him into the air. He didn’t have the chance to change evolutions before Parrotmon’s electricity struck him. He hit the ground and carefully got back to his feet, readying a Pyro Tornado. But before his flames could go anywhere, they were overwhelmed by Asuramon’s own. The rapid-fire attacks threw Agunimon off, giving Karatenmon ample time to slash at him from various angles with his twin swords. Takuya went down hard without ever getting a chance to use his Beast Spirit.

            And as he watched the whole thing unfold, Teruo couldn’t help but think, This was supposed to be my fight.

            Unfortunately, something seemed to answer him. Golden light broke through the Steel Sphere and struck Takuya, forcing everyone back. Teruo turned his eyes away, feeling as though he would go blind if he tried to look. Whatever happened within the light happened silently—perhaps in Takuya’s mind—because when the light faded, Takuya stood tall with all of his injuries healed and a fiery aura around him.

            “This isn’t good,” Teruo declared, echoing his earlier comment about the Beast Spirit of Steel.

            “Maybe not for you,” Takuya replied. “For me, it’s the best thing that’s happened yet.”

 

This chapter’s title comes from an episode of Full Metal Alchemist. As in previous chapters, Teruo doesn’t quite know where all these legends he reads come from: the Tree of Life he refers to is the Sephirot from the Jewish Kabbalah (indeed, from which comes the Japanese name, Sefirotmon). I blame Shaun Garin for the tone of the opening scene.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-four: “Canto Alla Vita”

            After wandering the area for some time, Chiaki decided it was time for a break. Her compass was virtually useless, and the squelching of her wet shoes was driving her crazy. Finally, she sat down in the grass and took off her socks and shoes to let her feet dry out for a little bit. Before she noticed what she was doing, she started humming as she unbraided her hair, putting the ties on her wrist while she waited for her hair to dry. But as soon as she realized what she was doing, she went silent. How could she get so complacent? Here she was, lost in god-knows-where with no sign of her friends, and she’s singing? What was wrong with her?

            I’ve got to get out of here, she decided, shoving her socks into her pocket and pulling her shoes on.

            As she stood, she heard a rustling sound nearby—something that definitely wasn’t caused by the wind. Automatically, she got into a defensive stance, her hand on her D-tector in case of danger. But before she had the chance to evolve, voices called out, “Please don’t attack!”

            “Why not?” she demanded, adding a threatening edge to her voice. “Come out!”

            Clumsily, three Honeybeemon made their way out of the wood and fell on top of one another. Seeing their pathetic attempt to come forward, Chiaki relaxed and put away her D-tector. There was no way anyone as uncoordinated as these three could be a viable threat. Still, she was alone and needed to find out what was going on, so it didn’t mean she was letting herself get caught off-guard.

            “Why were you spying on me?” she asked, maintaining the edge in her voice.

            “Please don’t hurt us!” insisted one of the Honeybeemon. “We only wanted to hear you sing.”

            “What?” she asked.

            “There was this beautiful sound coming through the woods, and we wanted to find where it was coming from,” another explained. “We didn’t want to make trouble!”

            Chiaki raised an eyebrow at the comment of “beautiful sound.” “That was just me stupidly humming. That’s nothing special.”

            “Oh, it was!” they insisted.

            “Nothing like that has ever been heard here!” the third declared. “It was wonderful!”

            Chiaki sighed, realizing these three—while infinitely less shallow—were really no better than the Toucanmon. “Look,” she said, “I didn’t do all that much. I just started humming without realizing it. I fell into a false sense of security. I’m not letting it happen again.”

            “Looks like you already have,” Zoë declared, walking out from behind a tree. She folded her arms as if in disappointment while Chiaki resumed her defensive stance. “Here I am, trying to find my way around, and what are you doing? Singing for your fans. You always need some kind of audience, don’t you?”

            “Says the one always putting off a fight so she can talk,” Chiaki retorted. It only took her a moment to evolve. “But since we’ve got an audience, then how can I refuse a battaglia con spirito? Don’t you agree, Madame Butterfly?”

            “Of course,” Zoë answered, obligingly evolving to Kazemon. “In that case, canto a voce piena.

            Kazemon flipped onto her hands and spun around with her legs extended. Ranamon easily dodged the kicks and sent along a cloud of acidic mist, but Kazemon’s spinning deflected it. Their attacks seemed to be at a stalemate—water met wind and wind met water, and all they managed to do was soak the area with high velocity rain.

            “Guess it’d be pretty nice if you could switch to your Beast Spirit, huh, Chiaki?” Kazemon mocked.

            “Not like you can talk,” Ranamon replied. “The wing on Zephyrmon still hurt? You weren’t flying on it so well before. I’ll have to thank Koichi for breaking it for you.”

            A badly aimed Tempest Twist missed Ranamon and hit the Honeybeemon instead. Where most Digimon that level would be able to withstand it, the Honeybeemon weren’t good fighters at all. Ranamon watched in shock as Kazemon scanned their data in a very blasé manner before resuming her attack. Chiaki just had time to dodge and counterattack.

            “How do you kill three people and not care one way or the other?” she demanded. “I thought someone’s life might mean a little bit more to you!”

            “They still come back in the end,” Kazemon replied. “And their Fractal Code just gets recycled. Nothing wasted”

            Ranamon couldn’t stand for it. She tried to think of something to say, but her mind was blank. With a shriek of fury, she charged at her, the lake rising behind her at her call.

            ~~~

            Teppei wasn’t sure how long he was in the coliseum, but he knew he was sick of it. No one answered his shouts; nobody came out to explain themselves or attack, and that made him restless and worried. He didn’t like the feel of this one bit.

            “All right, where are you guys?” he muttered, pulling out his D-tector. As always, the first one he called was Katsuharu.

            The call got through just fine, but there was the sound of thunder before Katsuharu replied, “I’m a little busy at the moment,” and abruptly hung up.

            Realizing what this meant, Teppei called Koichi next. In this case, there was no answer, but he could hear a distant voice cry out, “Execute Spirit Evolution!” The line went dead soon after. Teppei swore loudly; whatever had just happened to Koichi, he was pretty sure was his fault.

            Neither Chiaki nor Teruo picked up, but Teppei heard the sounds of battle. Angrily, he swore at whatever might listen. All of his friends were in danger, fighting for their lives, and he was stuck in some stupid arena just waiting.

            “Come on!” he yelled. “Are you just going to make me stand here while my friends all die? If that’s the case, then I’m doing whatever the hell it takes to get to them, and I swear that nothing is going to be able to stop me from getting out of here! Do you hear me—nothing!”

            “There you are!” came the gruff voice of Korikakumon.

            Almost lazily, Teppei looked at him. “Hey, Tommy. Long time no fight. I have to admit I miss fighting only you, and not Zoë or IceDevimon or any other whacko who comes to call.” He evolved to Gigasmon and stretched his shoulder muscles, saying, “I guess I can’t talk my way out of this one. So are you just going to stand there or are you going to fight?”

            An ax came flying at him, but instead of dodging it as he normally would, Teppei held up an arm to block it. He didn’t feel quite like hiding all of his strength today; there was enough going on that he needed to relieve some stress. Tommy thought he was going too easy on him in the past? Fine, Teppei would start taking off the gloves here.

            Korikakumon rushed at him, but Gigasmon managed to grab and throw him into the air. He followed it with a Quagmire Twister that sent Korikakumon flying toward the stands. A cloud of dust rose from where he fell. But instead of running over to get a few more hits in before Korikakumon could get up, Gigasmon folded his arms and waited.

            “You said you’re sick of me going easy on you?” he asked. “Well, there you go. And that’s not even the half of it! You say you want it, but you can’t handle it!”

            It should have thrown Tommy off. It should have made him more cautious about attacking. It should have made him realize just how powerful Teppei really was and just how lucky he was that the older boy had always kept himself in check. But things had a bad habit of not going as they should when it came to Teppei.

            Koikakumon burst out of the ruins and charged Gigasmon. Just as Gigasmon raised his fists to strike again, Korikakumon’s hair wrapped around his wrists, and a tough yank launched him into the air. Gigasmon’s strength was completely used against him as he slammed into the ground, shaking it during the impact.

            He didn’t have time to lie there and recover, though. Axes and arrowheads came at him, and while they weren’t strong enough to cut him, he knew better than to stay in one place. He leapt up and slammed his fists into the ground, shaking the earth beneath Korikakumon’s feet. It gave him just enough time to ready another Quagmire Twister in his direction. But when he tried, Korikakumon once again caught him in his tough hair. Tangled in it, he was completely at Korikakumon’s mercy—or lack thereof—as he slammed him over and over into the ground. And all the while, Teppei couldn’t help but wonder what the trigger had been. What had he done that made Tommy react this way?

            ~~~

            Wave after wave slammed into Kazemon, making it harder and harder for her to defend herself. Her wings were drenched becoming useless, and her winds couldn’t fight off such vicious water attacks.

            “How could you be so heartless?” Ranamon demanded, slamming her once again with a blast of water.

            Kazemon coughed up some water and replied, “Says the one trying to drown me.”

            “They never did anything to you!” Ranamon cried, ignoring the tangent. “They wouldn’t have done anything to begin with! The Zoë I knew was never this cruel!”

            “How would you know?” Kazemon asked once she could breathe. “You were too busy going along with Amaya!”

            Ranamon froze mid-attack, giving Kazemon the chance to counterattack. A gust of wind blew her into the lake and gave Kazemon the opportunity to slide evolve. While her left wing still ached from Velgemon’s attack on her only a few weeks ago, the boost in strength was exactly what she needed. When Ranamon burst out of the lake and tried a physical attack, Zephyrmon was able to hold her off with her Plasma Pods.

            “I know I was wrong,” Ranamon confessed when she got up from where she’d fallen. “But I never once said anything. I never meant to hurt you; I was just too afraid of what would happen if I openly disagreed with the other girls. But that doesn’t matter to me now. I’m not going to keep quiet when I see people hurting.”

            “Then I guess you must be pretty blind,” Zephyrmon replied, attacking her again. Ranamon dodged and leapt for a tree.

            “I know I hurt you this way, and I’m sorry,” she insisted. “I’m really, truly sorry. But if this is the only way I can get you to see that, then so be it.”

            A cloud of Draining Rain came Zephyrmon’s way, but she slashed through it with her Hurricane Gale. “I can’t believe you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. It’s right in front of your face, and you don’t see it.”

            “What?” Ranamon demanded.

            “You know, I feel bad for him,” Zephyrmon continued. “You won’t believe it, but I really do. He tries so hard, and you barely notice. You’re too caught up in someone else.”

            “What!” Ranamon yelled. “Who! What are you going on about?”

            “The kid you’re constantly leading on, Teruo.”

            The shock stopped Ranamon entirely, and she didn’t even register the blow she took until she hit the ground. Shakily, she asked, “W-what are you talking about?”

            “It’s obvious he thinks everything of you,” Zephyrmon explained. “When something happens, he’s always the first at your side. But you ignore him in favor of Koichi.”

            “I do not!” Ranamon shouted, trying to strike her. But it was sloppy, and she was thrown to the ground. She caught herself before she hit the ground and responded, “I care about Teruo just the same as I do about Koichi. I care about them a lot.

            “Then does Koichi know this?” Zephyrmon asked. “He depends a lot on you. How would either of them take it if they knew what you were feeling? Would it kill them to know that you can’t make up your mind? You can’t have both, Chiaki. Stop leading them on.”

            For a moment, Chiaki was speechless. She wanted to argue, but she couldn’t think of anything to say. She cared about the boys deeply, and she would never do anything to hurt them, would she? But she knew she had to say something to keep Zoë from winning this battle, and somehow or another, she asked, “Isn’t it the same for you?”

            “What?” Zephyrmon asked, startled.

            The reaction was just what Chiaki needed to sort through what Zoë had said, and everything suddenly dawned on her: “You keep talking about me ‘leading on’ Koichi and Teruo, but are you saying that because that’s what you see yourself doing?”

            “No,” Zephyrmon denied, but it sounded weak even to her.

            “Of course,” Ranamon realized. “That’s it, isn’t it? When we were fighting before, I hurt Takuya and you were right at his side. And then while that was going on, Katsuharu noticed J.P. wasn’t paying attention to his fight at all. Koichi said he saw the exact same thing when he fought all of you as Velgemon. Now it all makes sense. You can’t decide between them. J.P.’s sweet and everything, but there’s something about Takuya that draws you to him—the strength and confidence. But the question is: does Takuya feel the same way you feel about him? So tell me, Zoë, when you say you feel sorry for Teruo, do you pity him because he reminds you of J.P. or because he reminds you of yourself?”

            The wind picked up all around them. Angrily, Zephyrmon sent bladed winds after Ranamon, who had the audacity to giggle as she back-flipped away from them. Rain started to fall down harder, and between it and the wind, there might as well have been a hurricane over them. The wind howled, carrying Chiaki’s laughter everywhere and giving it a creepy, mad sound. Though whether the sound of the laughter affected Zoë was hard to say; she was still enraged and probably saw the laughter as yet another reason to take Chiaki down hard.

            A tree fell from the force of the gusts. Ranamon nimbly leapt over it, directing a good deal of the rain toward Zephyrmon while upside-down in the air. The water hit her eyes, irritating them. She blinked repeatedly to clear her vision, and furiously turned her scattered winds into a single cyclone. While it wasn’t a true tornado, it was still quite dangerous. As it raced after Ranamon, it tore up leaves, twigs, and other debris, flinging them at her.

            “What’s the matter, Chiaki?” Zephyrmon asked. “I can’t hear you laughing anymore. I thought you were enjoying yourself!”

            The whirlwind threw Ranamon into a tree trunk before dissipating. Ranamon sat at the foot of the tree, slumped over. It was hard to tell if she was conscious or not. But as Zephyrmon got close, Ranamon suddenly lifted her head, wearing a smug grin.

            “Ha ha,” she remarked before slamming a wave of muddy water into her.

            The attack was enough to loosen the grip Zoë’s Fractal Code had on the Beast Spirit of Water. While Zoë devolved, Ranamon hurriedly grabbed the Spirit and returned it to her D-tector. But before either of them could do anything more, an eyeball-shaped portal appeared and forced them out.

            ~~~

            As his body had roughly the same density and strength of stone, there were very few things that could hurt Gigasmon. But getting slammed over and over into the ground by his own power was definitely one of those exceptions. He wasn’t going to hold out much longer; he could feel the stress on his body and the dull pain that sharpened every minute. He knew he had to do something fast, so he switched evolutions. Once he was in the smaller form of Grumblemon, he was able to untangle himself from the hair and break free.

            “You know, I can put up with a lot,” he said. “And frankly, I deserve most of it. But this? Dude, this is getting old!”

            “You going to run away and cry?” Korikakumon taunted.

            Teppei fought to control his temper, failed, and yelled, “Can it! I don’t ever see you coming after me on your own. You only ever find me by complete accident. Otherwise, I’m fighting your friends. So, what? Do you only ever find me because you get lost yourself? Is that all they think of you as? Just some little kid who needs looking after when they’re already too busy?”

            He was about to continue his tirade when he noticed that Tommy had frozen, staring at him in shock. Though he didn’t know it, he’d just repeated—almost verbatim—the exact argument Tommy’s elder brother always gave him about being a bother to others. Linguists say that language has an infinite amount of word combinations—between this and people’s individual speaking styles, the odds are astronomical that Teppei would repeat Yutaka Himi’s words without ever hearing them or even without meeting the man. And though he didn’t know the odds, the linguistics still shocked Tommy silent.

            Mistaking the cause behind this, Grumblemon asked, “What? Figured out it’s true?”

            “Shut up!” Teppei was surprised at the hatred and sorrow in his voice, especially as he continued, “You and my brother are exactly the same!”

            “Your what?” Grumblemon replied, shocked for a second—but only a second. “You know what, screw it. People are having brothers come out of the woodworks like it’s going out of style. My point still stands—you and I are the only ones here, and only one of us is coming out of this on our own feet.”

            He grabbed his hammer and swung it at Korikakumon at full force. Unsurprisingly, Korikakumon went flying into the stands. It was less power than Gigasmon, however, so he was able to get up a lot faster and hurl his axes. Grumblemon leapt over them easily and prepared to bring his hammer down when he realized he’d fallen right into Tommy’s trap. Korikakumon’s hair wrapped right around the handle, and he yanked it out of Grumblemon’s hands. He would later kick himself for freezing in shock, giving Korikakumon the chance to swing the hammer right into his face.

            He went flying and devolved almost the moment he hit the ground. Despite his Digimon form’s thick skin, he was rather badly hurt. He couldn’t see—he’d taken the impact on the right side of his face, so that eye was bruising rapidly, and his glasses had fallen off and broken in the fall. He held himself up with one hand; the other was over his face, trying to stop the bleeding from his broken nose. Breathing through his mouth was necessary but painful, as he was sure he’d cracked a few ribs when he fell.

            Though he was broken, Teppei was far from beaten. He couldn’t raise his head to face Korikakumon—not with his nose bleeding like this, and his vision blurry—he asked in a calm, unwavering voice, “Is this what you wanted, Tommy? You got me beat up and completely helpless. What are you going to do next?” When there was no answer, he continued, “Of course. You didn’t plan for this. None of you did. You get us right where you want us and then what happens? Are you really ready to take that next step, get rid of your humanity altogether? If you are, fine. Not like I can stop you anyway. Just goes to show you weren’t as good as I thought you were.”

            There was a tense silence and suddenly a stream of light. Korikakumon readied his axes at this interruption, but before he could do anything, the light hit Teppei, aiming directly for his D-tector.

            The first thing Teppei noticed was that he could breathe and his nose was healed, if still bloody; the second was that he could see. Not only was his black eye gone, but the light was allowing him to see without his glasses.

            “What is going on?” he asked, looking around. To his right, he saw his Human Spirit; to his left was his Beast Spirit. Confused, he looked at his D-tector and saw a faint symbol on it—the same symbol from Seraphimon’s digiegg.

            “Okay, now I’m confused,” he confessed. “But I’m going to make a wild leap of logic here and guess that Bokomon’s little baby is trying to help me out here—no matter how weird that sounds.” The symbol faded and was replaced with the symbol of the Spirit of Earth. “But who am I to question a blessing?”

            The light around him dimmed somewhat, but he still had a bright aura. Seeing Korikakumon standing off in the distance, he smirked. “Well, it looks like I’ve got another trick up my sleeve after all. Might as well give this new power a road test, eh? But first…” He bent over and picked up his glasses. The aura spread to include them, repairing the frames and lenses before it disappeared. Once the light was gone, Teppei’s restored vision was gone, but he placed the glasses on. “That’s better. Now, where was I?” He saw Korikakumon tense for battle. “Oh, right. Execute now! Fusion Evolution!”

            A globe of Fractal Code appeared in his hand, much like it would for Beast Spirit Evolution. The evolution itself was a mix between the two—as intense as the Beast Spirit, but tempered by the control of the Human Spirit. He felt the strength of the Beast Spirit and the clarity of the Human Spirit, equally flowing through him. A mace formed in his hands, and he hefted it onto his shoulder, declaring his name: “Ymirmon!”

            His body was similar to Gigasmon’s, but with markings on his skin similar to ones on Grumblemon, and a torn pair of pants (to which Teppei muttered, “It’s about time. I was getting tired of that draft.”). Even his mace was reminiscent of his earlier forms—its morning star head came from the large flail on Grumblemon’s hat.

            “This is nice,” he commented at last. “And I like this mace; it’s a lot more versatile than that old hammer.”

            “Are you just going to stand around and talk all day?” Korikakumon demanded.

            “Wow, somebody’s in a rush to get their ass kicked,” Ymirmon noticed. “But it’s not like I have anything better to do right now.”

            Instead of waiting for Korikakumon to charge him, like he’d done the whole battle, he ran in first. Korikakumon attacked with his axes, but Ymirmon one-handedly blocked them with his mace and followed it up with an uppercut. Korikakumon went flying and lay prone on the ground long enough for Ymirmon to come leaping toward him, brandishing his mace in both hands. This startled him enough to get up quickly and get out of the way, but Ymirmon sailed right over him and landed a few feet beyond, smashing his mace into the ground with a cry of “Troll Cracker!” Tommy had no time to make the obvious sarcastic comeback about the attack name; the ground split beneath his feet and the earth shook. He couldn’t maintain his balance, and he was sure the world was going to explode.

            “Are you done, or do you need another demonstration?” Ymirmon asked.

            “I’m never giving up!” Korikakumon insisted. He tried to ensnare Ymirmon or at least his mace in his hair again, but Ymirmon was strong enough to yank his mace free without even trying to throw Korikakumon into the next rock formation.

            “I have to admit, that’s a lot better than you were when I first met you,” he confessed. “You always gave up and ran away. You were soft and scared. I bet your brother saw it too, didn’t he? That’s why he was always picking on you.”

            Korikakumon charged him, expecting to throw him to the ground. He didn’t expect to hit Ymirmon like a brick wall. As he staggered back, he cried, “You don’t know anything!”

            “Maybe I know more than you think,” Ymirmon answered calmly. “Your brother was sick of watching you act like a baby, so he bullied you, didn’t he? When you fell down crying, he told you to get up and stop whining. When you complained that you were hurting, he told you to toughen up and ride it out. No matter what happened, he refused to go easy on you. But there’s a difference between him and me. He was trying to make you strong, and probably the only way he knew how.”

            “You’re lying!” Korikakumon insisted. “Yutaka never did anything like that!”

            “Never tried to help you, or never bullied you?” Ymirmon asked. “Which one?”

            “Both!” he cried, hurling his axes.

            Once again, Ymirmon repelled them with his mace, and he ran over and hit Korikakumon across the face—just under the left eye, in an exact reflection of where he’d been hit with the hammer. But he made sure to go as lightly as possible while still making it hurt. Yeah, Tommy would have a bruise under that eye, but he wouldn’t be in as bad shape as Teppei had been.

            “This isn’t going to make any sense to you now,” he said, devolving to face the now devolved boy sitting on the ground, fighting back tears, “but this is why bullies like me target you. We see a little kid, spoiled by Mommy and Daddy, and we attack him to make ourselves feel better because that’s an opponent who won’t fight back. Prove us wrong, Tommy. Listen to whatever your brother was trying to tell you and grow up. ‘Cause I don’t like doing this anymore, but I still don’t like putting up with people like that.”

            Tommy twitched in anger, seemingly ready to attack him. Before he could, though, a portal opened. Teppei realized, just seconds before the portal threw him out, that he wouldn’t have tried to defend himself if Tommy attacked. He really was tired of this.

 

Chapter title from a song by Josh Groban. Zoë’s and Chiaki’s comments are Italian music references: Madame Butterfly is an Italian opera, battaglia con spirito (con brio) means “a piece suggesting a battle, with spirit” (using “spirito” instead of “brio” as a pun for Spirit), and according to Josh Groban translation sites, canto a voce piena means “I sing with full voice.” The end of Chiaki’s battle is based off of Terry McGinnis’s tactics in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and Teppei’s evolution prelude was completely inspired by Doctor Who: the Tenth Doctor’s mannerisms, and Rose’s bond with the Time Vortex. Ymirmon is fanmade, and credit goes to Shaun Garin for helping me come up with attacks. Thanks to him and Ryan Griffin, as always, for help throughout.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-five: “The Oncoming Storm”

            It was generally considered foolish to take shelter under a tree in a thunderstorm. Katsuharu didn’t have much choice in the matter, though. All around him was forest, and he didn’t like the idea of standing out in the open in a lightning storm anyway. He’d just have to trust that his Spirit would be able to hold up against it if it came to this.

            “What is with this storm?” he muttered, watching the skies intently. The lightning only skipped from cloud to cloud, never once touching the ground. He wasn’t an expert, but… “That’s not normal lightning behavior.”

            “What was your first clue?”

            Suddenly, the lightning aimed directly for him. Katsuharu was lucky to follow his gut instinct and dive for cover the moment he heard Beetlemon’s voice. A burnt patch of dirt radiated out from where he was standing. He got to his feet quickly and pulled out his D-tector. Before he had the chance to evolve, however, Teppei’s voice sounded from it:

            “Where are you, man? I can’t find anyone!”

            “I’m a little busy at the moment,” he bit back before hanging up. A second later, he evolved to Arbormon.

            Beetlemon came at him, his horn charged with electricity. Arbormon launched an arm into the air and grabbed hold of a tree branch, using it to swing himself out of the way. Once he was in the safety of the tree, he tried to fire the missile from his breastplate. A blast of lightning completely destroyed it before it could touch Beetlemon, however. Bits and pieces of the wooden projectile went flying through the air, embedding themselves into the trees. Seeing that his long-range attack was useless, Arbormon knew he had to settle for his typical mid-range Roundhouse Punt.

            He jumped out of the tree just as Beetlemon took flight. Beetlemon was able to block the first fist that came his way, but the other three limbs hit him anyway, throwing him into another tree trunk.

            “Here’s something I’ve been dying to know,” he said while perched in another tree. “What the hell did I do to you?” He leapt out of the way of a lightning blast and ducked into another tree. “You said that this was revenge for Tommy, but I don’t buy that anymore. If it was, you’d be attacking Teppei just as bad. And you don’t nearly stop a guy from being able to breathe just because he kicked around a friend of yours. It has to be a lot more personal than that.” He stopped and faced Beetlemon, making it very clear that he was not going to fight until he’d heard the story. “So what did I do?”

            Thunder boomed all around them, but the lightning remained in the sky. Very deliberately, Beetlemon said, “You think you can see through everyone, don’t you? You think that just because you can see others’ weaknesses, it’s all right to keep hitting at them, make them feel worse about themselves.”

            “Yeah, I’ve been a bully,” Arbormon replied. “I’ve accepted that, and I’ve moved on. What does that have to do with you, though?”

            Beetlemon faced the sky, and Katsuharu thought that underneath the armor, J.P. had a sarcastic smile on his face. “You know, I hate lightning and thunder. When the Spirits chose us, I was sure I’d gotten the wrong element. Every time there was a storm, I was terrified. You never know what can happen—the lights can go out, a fire can start… For just a minute, the whole world is lit up, and then everything goes black again with a deafening boom.”

            “Okay…” Arbormon answered, confused.

            “I have this bad habit of forgetting my umbrella,” he continued. “One day while I was at school, a tropical storm hit, and I was stuck trying to bribe other kids into walking with me. Finally, all of them left but one. This last kid agreed to walk with me without candy or trading cards. But on the way home, he looks at me and says, ‘You know, you’re pretty sad. You don’t have any friends, so you try and buy them.’ Want to guess who it was?”

            Arbormon recoiled in shock. “I don’t remember saying any of that!”

            “You did, and I’ve got a good memory,” Beetlemon replied. “You’ve put down so many people that they just blur in your mind. I was willing to just forget it until I saw other pieces of your handiwork. You bullied Tommy, who was too young to stand up for himself. You do it to your friends too—I watched the way you treated Koichi. Up until recently, you acted like you didn’t trust a single thing he did. You mostly kept it to yourself while he was evolved, but it was obvious by the way you tried to ignore him. You even belittle Teppei, who you say is your best friend. How many times have you shot him down? Sure, maybe he’s got a thicker skin because he’s a bully himself, but how much of that is your fault?”

            “What?” Arbormon asked, completely unable to say anything else.

            “This is what you do to us, Katsuharu,” Beetlemon insisted. “You tear us down before we even know what we’re doing. And you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Maybe your friends can let you get away with it, but I’m not standing for it any longer, and I’m glad Tommy isn’t either.”

            He shifted evolutions and aimed MetalKabuterimon’s cannon at him. There was a sparkling, blinding flash of lightning as the Electron Cannon fired at Arbormon, and then there was darkness.

            ~~~

            “Koichi, where the hell are you?”

            All it took was one little slip to give him away. It wasn’t even anyone’s fault; Teppei only called to be sure Koichi was all right, not realizing that he was purposely trying to keep under the radar. But Koji heard it, and with the light from his evolution and Lobomon’s sword shining brightly, there was no place Koichi could hide. But maybe that was for the best; it was high time he stopped trying to run away.

            Lobomon swiped his sword at Koichi, who just managed to slide back out of its way. But the blade still managed to hit him, knocking the D-tector right out of his hand. Immediately, he ran for it, but Lobomon was easily able to get in his way. He stopped short, staring into the business end of the laser equipped to Lobomon’s wrist.

            “Give up,” Lobomon warned, his voice low.

            Koichi swallowed hard. “I can’t,” he insisted.

            There was a tense standoff in which Koichi stayed frozen to the spot while Lobomon kept his laser trained on him. There was absolutely nothing he could do. He had no idea what Koji would do, but having a deadly weapon fixed on him gave him a pretty good indication of what he might try. If Koichi tried to move, there was the extremely strong possibility that Koji would shoot. It would probably be a good idea to watch Lobomon’s face to see if he could read his intent, but Koichi was not about to take his eyes off the gun.

            Finally, seeing that Koichi was too terrified to look at him and not the laser, Lobomon put his arm down and said, “Look, I’m not going to attack someone who can’t fight back. It goes completely against my personal code.”

            “W-what?” Koichi stammered.

            “Just because we’re enemies, it doesn’t mean you’re still not a helpless, stupid kid right now,” he replied. Koichi guessed this was supposed to be something akin to a compliment, however insultingly worded. “I’m not the kind of person who would push someone around like that.”

            Koichi’s heart was racing, and his instincts were screaming, “Say something, stupid!” Suddenly, having a staring contest with a laser cannon seemed far less frightening. But he knew he had to say this, and it was now or never.

            “I’m K—” At the last second, he choked, and his name was left hanging unfinished in the shadows.

            Lobomon gave him a look that suggested he was raising an eyebrow behind his mask. “You’re what?”

            Koichi cleared his throat, took a breath, and slowly said, “My name is Koichi Kimura. Does…does that mean anything to you?”

            That look intensified. “No. Should it?”

            Koichi hung his head. “I guess not, then. Sorry.”

            There was another awkward silence between them. At last, Lobomon said, “You’re weird, you know that?”

            A small smile formed on Koichi’s face when he remembered the last time Koji told him that, or something similar for that matter. First breaking into giggles after nearly drowning, now expecting him to recognize his name? “Yeah, I guess I am.” An idea hit him: Just keep talking. Just keep talking, and sooner or later you’ll figure out what to say. “My—my parents divorced when I was younger. I was too young to remember. My mom raised me almost all on her own. She’s great, you know. Everything she did, she did for me. No matter how much she was hurt or sick or tired or anything, she would drop everything just for my sake. I guess I never really appreciated it until now.”

            It hadn’t seemed possible, but Lobomon looked even more confused now than he had before. “Is there a point to all this?”

            Koichi didn’t answer, but all he could think was, I hope so.

            ~~~

            Katsuharu only had a moment to switch to Petaldramon’s form, but it paid off and the electrical blast only hit him in the side. While it hurt, it was definitely preferable than taking it head-on. Quickly, he thrust his tail into the ground to try and spread out the roots to rip up the ground underneath MetalKabuterimon. But it was a trick he’d used too often; J.P. changed evolutions and rose high above the roots and vines. With his hands in the air, he called on the storm and sent several powerful bolts of lighting right into Petaldramon’s back. Katsuharu never stood a chance. He was far too slow in that form to dodge, and even if he’d changed evolutions he’d still be hit just as badly. Fractal Code wrapped around him, and he fell to the ground with an undignified thud.

            “You know,” Beetlemon said as Katsuharu defiantly started pulling himself up, “right here is when I’d expect you to start saying all sorts of things to throw me off. Where’s your spirit, Katsuharu? No comebacks about how pathetic I am? No putdowns that I’m just using my team the way I used to use the kids at school?”

            “Is that really what you think of yourself?” Katsuharu asked bluntly. J.P. was shocked at the wording, at the honesty of it—no trace of a mocking tone at all. “Those are your words, not mine. I haven’t bullied you once since we first met in the Digital World, you know that? I don’t even see your interaction with the others enough to judge. But if you can think that I’d try and say that against you, then some part of you must be thinking that it’s true.” He groaned and managed to stand upright. “Yeah, I was wrong to say that stuff to you. I was wrong on a lot of things. But still, there are some things that need to be said. And looking back, I think that was one of them.”

            “What do you mean?” Beetlemon demanded.

            “It’s simple,” Katsuharu answered. “You don’t know how to fix what’s wrong with you if you can’t face what’s wrong. And yeah, it’s gonna hurt—just like it hurts knowing that belittling people is so second nature to me that I don’t even realize I’m doing it anymore. It makes you doubt how far along you’ve come, makes you think that you’re nothing more than what you started as. But you’ve got to force yourself to grow a thicker skin before you can begin to improve yourself, just like a tree grows its wood in rings around itself.” Another metaphor hit him, and he smiled humorlessly. “Or like how a tropical storm pulls its clouds and winds around itself, winding around to form a typhoon. But a tree and a storm are only strong if they manage to do that.”

            A bright light broke into the forest and struck Katsuharu’s D-tector. He only had a moment to notice Seraphimon’s emblem displayed on the screen before everything went white. The pain faded from his body, and he looked to see his Human Spirit at his right and his Beast Spirit at his left. The smile on his face this time was genuine, as he whispered, “I get it,” and allowed the light to vanish. Without missing a beat, he raised his hand into the air and formed a globe of Fractal Code around it, crying out, “Execute now! Fusion Evolution!”

            The two different evolutions joined together, gathering around him and fusing into one powerful warrior. He looked more like a smaller Petaldramon (but with a head closer to Arbormon’s) standing upright with an extra pair of arms. The armor covering his wrists and ankles was from Arbormon and was covered in carvings that looked like they were straight out of Aztec mythology. The piece on his chest was no different—a head based off of Petaldramon’s, complete with the flower design, but still a bit resembling an Aztec feathered serpent. It was no surprise then that his name sounded Aztec as well: “Xolotlmon!”

            “How could you evolve again?” Beetlemon asked.

            “Don’t know,” Xolotlmon replied. “And I don’t really care right now. Cuauhunacayotl!”

            He held his arms out, and a slight glow formed around the trees nearby. Suddenly, static wood started moving—branches swung at Beetlemon; roots burst through the ground to try and ensnare him. A few lightning strikes felled some of the trees, but it was difficult fighting all of them. He was constantly forced to dodge branches and treetops that were determined to pummel him into the ground. Finally, he charged up his entire body with electricity and let it go. Every tree near him was electrified; the lightning coursed through their sap and fried them from top to root. It took a lot out of him, but it worked and the trees fell to the ground as dead wood.

            “Xochitl!” Xolotlmon cried, and razor-edged poinsettia bracts came flying at Beetlemon like shuriken.

            The flowers weren’t sharp enough to cut through Beetlemon’s thick armor, but he dodged them all the same. In midair, he spotted the weak point in Xolotlmon’s armor—a spot beneath his breastplate that wasn’t very well armored. Charging up a Thunder Fist, he flew toward Katsuharu and hit him right in the solar plexus, just as he had the first time they fought.

            Katsuharu devolved and fell backwards immediately on impact, and J.P.’s evolution gave out soon after. Though it hurt to breathe, Katsuharu didn’t feel as bad as the last time; his armor was thicker this time around. J.P. stared at him, shocked at what he’d done, and Katsuharu defiantly grinned at him despite how battered he was.

            “I win,” he whispered. With that, a portal opened, and they were gone.

            ~~~

            “What do you know about your mother?” Koichi asked. Lobomon started at the seemingly innocent question. “I saw your memories, but I don’t know anything beyond that. What...what was she like? Do you know anything?”

            “She died months before my third birthday,” he answered. There was no change in expression on Koichi’s face. “My dad doesn’t like to talk about her. I think it hurts him too much.”

            “I never knew my father,” Koichi murmured. “I was too young. Sometimes I want to say I hate him, but I don’t remember him. But I know he took my brother and never told him I existed. I almost think that’s reason enough to hate him.”

            “What do you mean?” Lobomon asked, suddenly very suspicious.

            “When my parents got divorced, they each took one of us,” Koichi answered, his voice strong and unwavering. “I lived with our mom. She did everything she could for me, sacrificed every last thing she had, and I never saw how hard it was for her.” He stopped. “No, that’s a lie. I saw that she was suffering, but I was willing to blame it on everything else in the world—money, her job… And then my grandma died and she told me everything. That’s when everything suddenly made sense.” He looked up at Koji, almost accusatory. “My mother was hurting because the more I grew up, the more she realized she was only getting half the story. She could only watch one of her sons grow up, not the other. So I knew I had to find him to make things right for her. But I was scared. I was scared that this meant I was the one nobody wanted, that my father rejected me and my mother regretted me.”

            “Where is this going?” Lobomon demanded, his voice starting to waver. His increasing fear seemed to be directly proportional to Koichi’s rising courage. But Koichi paid it no heed.

            “My brother had a good life,” Koichi insisted. “He had everything he could ever want, and he didn’t appreciate any of it. Meanwhile, I’m watching my mom die a little more each day because she’s stuck working a job she hates for a boss who doesn’t pay her enough, just so she can raise the kid she has while longing for the one she doesn’t have. And my brother doesn’t know because he’s too busy being fed all these lies my father tells him. And I’ve known this for so long, but I didn’t say anything because I was still so afraid of what was going to happen.” He noticed the way Lobomon was looking at him, a combination of foreboding and fury. He smirked. “But it’s your turn to be afraid now, isn’t it? Because you know what I’m going to say next. You know that even though I’m a helpless, stupid kid right now without a digivice, I have the power to destroy your world with just one word.” Lobomon aimed the laser at him again, but Koichi knew who was really in control of the situation now, so he whispered, “And I already have, Brother.”

            The laser fired and missed, but that had nothing to do with aim. Faster than Koji expected, Koichi had ducked out of its way and dove for the forgotten D-tector. He scanned his Code through quickly and evolved to Loewemon not a moment too soon. Lobomon was right on him with his swords drawn, so he raised his shield to block.

            “Mom didn’t die,” he growled. “Everything our father told you was a lie.”

            “No, he wouldn’t!” Lobomon denied, connecting his swords into a staff. Loewemon met it with his own staff, and they clashed repeatedly before a Shadow Meteor threw him across the battlefield. “You’re lying. You’re only screwing with my head, making me doubt everything just so you can have the advantage. It’s not going to work!”

            “How can you be so blind?” Loewemon demanded. “How many times have you seen me devolved? How could you not see it? We’re twin brothers and how is anyone so incredibly dense that he can’t even see that?”

            “We do not look alike!” Lobomon argued, hitting him again. The staff struck Loewemon’s shoulder, but he jabbed the end of his into Lobomon’s breastplate.

            “Maybe we don’t look exactly the same, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re twins,” he answered. “You’re supposed to be the smart one on your team. I’d think you knew what fraternal twins are.”

            “I know what that means!” Lobomon snarled, swinging for Loewemon’s head. He ducked and fired another Shadow Meteor.

            This time, when Koji went flying backwards, he devolved and lay prone on the ground. Loewemon held his staff at his side and watched as Koji got to his feet, defiantly yelling, “My father is a good man! He’d never keep this from me!”

            Bitterness crept into Koichi’s heart like a long suppressed demon finally breaking free. “Not even to make you accept that other woman?”

            Something inside Koji snapped, and he glared back with the utmost hatred. “You leave my mom out of this.”

            It was at this point that Koichi realized he’d gone too far. He was about to apologize when a burst of light came from Koji’s D-tector, and a woman’s voice rang out, “Koji, you must not believe him. The Warrior of Darkness will twist whatever he can to blind the Light.”

            “Ophanimon?” Koji asked, his voice betraying his desperation. “I don’t know what to do.”

            “Don’t be afraid,” she insisted. “I will help. I would never turn on you.”

            Bright light surrounded him, and Koichi only caught a glimpse of the blissful look on Koji’s face before he was completely blinded. When his vision finally returned, Koji was glaring at him and holding out a hand surrounded by a Fractal Code globe. Koichi thought he was going to Beast Spirit Evolve, and so shifted to JagerLoewemon’s evolution. But Koji smirked.

            “That’s not enough. That won’t ever be enough.” He scanned the Code through his D-tector and cried, “Execute now! Fusion Evolution!”

            Beowolfmon, as he called himself, looked like little more than a white-washed version of Lobomon wearing KendoGarurumon’s armor. But JagerLoewemon wasn’t about to be fooled into complacency, especially not when his enemy was wielding a massive double-bladed sword comprised of KendoGarurumon’s blades. It was a smart decision. No sooner had he begun to attack with an Ebony Blast, did a spectral wolf of blue flames form from the sword. There was a shout of “Frozen Hunter!” before it came at him. Quickly, he leapt into the air and fired off his attack, but Beowolfmon dodged it and held a fist out toward him and cried, “Cleansing Light!” JagerLoewemon prepared himself for the laser beam, but the missiles were new. The fact that they were apparently heat-seeking missiles didn’t help at all.

            Koichi couldn’t afford to try and change evolutions before the missiles impacted, so he let himself take the brunt of the explosion before Slide Evolving. As Loewemon, he landed on his feet and extended his staff, then ran forward at top speed. Beowolfmon swung his sword, but Loewemon leapt onto the blade, throwing off his weight distribution. As Beowolfmon staggered and tried to compensate, Loewemon struck him alongside the head with his staff. Angrily, Beowolfmon put all of his strength into pushing the sword up high, throwing Loewemon off. In midair, Loewemon flipped upside down and fired a Shadow Meteor at his back. It hit, but Beowolfmon half-turned and fired another volley of missiles. There was no way Loewemon could dodge them, and the hits he took kept him from being able to correct his fall. He hit the ground hard.

            A Frozen Hunter hit him while he lay prone. Realizing that he couldn’t afford not to defend himself, he got up and saw Beowolfmon charging at him. He started to fire another Shadow Meteor, but Beowolfmon thrust out his sword like a jousting lance and destroyed the lion’s head on Loewemon’s breastplate. He had no time to be shocked at the easy destruction of his armor; as it was, he was lucky not to be speared straight through. He leapt back and held up his Shadow Lance to hold off Beowolfmon’s sword. It was a futile attempt—the sword sliced clean through the lance, and it was only Koichi’s instinct to slide back that kept him from being the next victim.

            Out of weapons and out of options, he returned to JagerLoewemon’s form and put his faith in his raw power to pull him through. Luckily, he was more agile than Beowolfmon, giving him a better chance to dart across and fire off Ebony Blasts. Those appeared to be doing some damage, putting some dents in the once pristine armor. But Beowolfmon was able to block several of them with his sword, and while the force behind them pushed him back, he was still able to throw them off.

            Another Frozen Hunter came at JagerLoewemon, but he swiftly leapt into the air to avoid it, shooting down another Ebony Blast. Beowolfmon shot his Cleansing Light at him, but this time JagerLoewemon was ready. He surrounded himself with the aura of shadows for his Dark Master attack and spiraled through the air, dodging the laser but drawing the missiles. While the missiles were able to lock onto him, they were confused by the excess of darkness, so each time he moved, at least one of the missiles would veer off-course and fly toward the ground, oblivion, or even Beowolfmon.

            Once the last of the rockets had exploded, JagerLoewemon landed and prepared another Dark Master. Beowolfmon had his back to him as he tried to recover from the attack by his own weaponry. It should have been a clean, easy win. But at nearly the last second, Beowolfmon turned and violently swung his sword, catching JagerLoewemon mid-attack. The blade cut into the armor—nearly cut clean through, if Beowolfmon’s grip hadn’t been weak. Koichi went flying off, devolving in the air with the sword still stuck in his armor. Somehow or another, it didn’t cut through him when he landed, but it did lie right on top of him, broad-side down. And it was heavy, pinning him to the ground. No amount of squirming or struggling could free him. He frantically tried to push it off of him as Beowolfmon came over and aimed his laser/rocket launcher at his head. But salvation came in the form of a giant eyeball-shaped portal leading them outside with the promise of an oncoming storm.

 

If you can’t spot the irony in the Koichi/Koji battle, you’re not trying. This chapter’s title comes from Doctor Who—the Daleks call the Doctor the “Oncoming Storm,” as he is sort of a boogeyman for them. Major thanks to Ryan and Shaun for the Katsuharu segment, particularly for Xolotlmon. Ryan came up with the name and attacks and whole Aztec motif, and both he and Shaun helped with the design. And I admit to some fudging on my part when it comes to time—technically, both parts of chapters twenty-four and twenty-five are simultaneous with one another and with chapter twenty-six, but things don’t always work out that way length-wise when it comes to writing. On the bright side, however, this chapter makes “Yang-Yin” the longest fic I have written to date, both in terms of word-count and the amount of chapters. Here’s to another twenty-five.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-six: “Knight of Mirrors”

            A globe of Fractal Code formed around Takuya’s hand, and he scanned it through his D-tector, yelling, “Execute now! Fusion Evolution!” The guardians formed a barrier between the two Warriors, but Teruo could see through the gaps the new form of the Warrior of Flame—almost like Agunimon with BurningGreymon’s armor, wings, and tail. It didn’t comfort him one bit, especially not to hear the amount of control Takuya’s voice implied when he shouted his name: “Aldhamon!”

            “This is bad,” Teruo murmured again. “This is very bad.”

            A massive fireball—no, more like a miniature sun—formed in Aldhamon’s hands. Teruo felt the heat radiating from it, sweating as it became unbearably hot. Finally, Aldhamon let it go with a cry of “Solar Wind Destroyer!” It hit the frontlines and destroyed IceLeomon and Cherrymon immediately. Parrotmon and Karatenmon flew into the air to avoid it, while Asuramon and Volcamon were able to take the heat and formed a barrier in front of Teruo. He started to try to evolve again, but Asuramon insisted, “Don’t! You need to save your strength in case we fail!”

            “It’d make things a lot easier if I fought and helped you before you get killed,” Teruo argued.

            “There are more important things at stake,” Karatenmon insisted as he and Parrotmon attacked from above. Parrotmon’s electricity worked in conjunction with Volcamon’s sonic attacks, keeping Aldhamon grounded while Karatenmon rapidly slashed at him.

            “That’s it!” Aldhamon decided, tired of being held down by the dual attacks. He activated the blasters on his arms, crying out, “Atomic Inferno!” and shooting small fireballs at Volcamon. While his aim was far from perfect, he did manage to destroy Volcamon’s microphone, nullifying his crippling sonic attack. This gave him the chance to fly away from the next electrical attack and charge right into Parrotmon, shooting constantly at him. Parrotmon couldn’t escape the volley of fire, and Aldhamon quickly scanned his Fractal Code. Teruo thought there was something odd about it, but he couldn’t be sure.

            Next, Aldhamon landed and attacked Volcamon, grabbing him and throwing him into a mirrored spire with enough force to send the entire thing crashing down on top of him. When Volcamon pulled himself from the rubble and tried to attack back, Aldhamon hit him with another Solar Wind Destroyer. This time, Volcamon was too injured to withstand it. And this time, Teruo was sure he saw something out of the ordinary when Aldhamon scanned his Code—or rather, he didn’t see it that was the problem. It had been too bright to see with IceLeomon and Cherrymon, and Parrotmon was too far away to tell for sure, but now he was positive.

            “You…you guys don’t have any digieggs,” he realized.

            “That is why it doesn’t matter if we live or not,” Karatenmon insisted. “We are only constructs created by the Spirit. We were never real in the first place.”

            “You must go now!” Asuramon insisted, as a portal appeared behind Teruo. “The Steel Sphere is lost, and your friends are still battling in their respective elements. There is still a chance for you to ascend to the evolution if you can protect the Light Sphere. Go now!”

            Teruo started to protest, but Karatenmon was destroyed before he could speak. Deciding to hope that Asuramon could hold off Takuya at least long enough for this, he ran in the portal and let it close behind him.

            He stood in the empty church that was the Light Sphere and tried to catch his breath. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he was scared. Here he was, still trying to get his Beast Spirit, and Takuya pulled out a whole new evolution. Teruo was way outclassed. But he hadn’t defeated Seraphimon or Velgemon by listening to his doubts, so he took a deep breath and evolved.

            He was glad that he didn’t have long to wait before a portal opened in the ceiling, and Aldhamon flew down shooting. Immediately, Mercurymon started absorbing them into his shield. He ducked when Aldhamon flew right over his head, and then reflected the attacks at him when he was within range. But Aldhamon was surrounded by a fiery aura, and when the fireballs hit him, they simply were absorbed into it. He focused this power into another giant fireball, so Teruo acted quickly to teleport out of its way. Everything it touched burst into flames. The organ was a mass of molten metal and the pews were still burning when Mercurymon returned to battle. Seeing this destruction made him decide not to test his limits by trying to absorb the miniature sun. It was simply not something he would be able to handle.

            Aldhamon started shooting at him again, but he blocked with his shields and ran toward him. Just as he got close, Aldhamon flew into the air again and threw down another Solar Wind Destroyer. This time, Mercurymon hurled one of his shields away and teleported through it, appearing in midair to hurl his other shield at Aldhamon’s back. It just hit one of his wings, throwing him off-balance and deflecting his attack into the air, where it crashed through the ceiling, sending light down all the while the roof began to burn.

            “You’re not doing anything useful, you know,” Aldhamon taunted as Mercurymon landed in the flames. “You’re just burning in this firetrap.”

            “Maybe not,” Mercurymon replied, absorbing the flames around him and reflecting them back at Aldhamon.

            “Don’t you get it?” Aldhamon asked, letting the fire hit him without even feeling it. “Nothing you can do here will hurt me. Fire is my element!”

            He swooped down and rushed at Mercurymon, knocking his shields off his arms. Then he lifted him into the air and let him drop back down to the ground. Mercurymon pulled himself out of the flames, his armor covered in burn marks and its mirrors cracked. He had no choice but to run as the next Solar Wind Destroyer came at him.

            The explosion threw Teruo over into the melted slag of the organ. He threw himself off of it before his evolution failed, but he could still feel the heat radiating from the metal and flames. The air was hot and thick with smoke, choking him. He knelt over in a helpless coughing fit, hearing Aldhamon laugh.

            “You lose,” he insisted. “The more you try, the more you’re just going to burn here. This is your pyre; this is the end.”

            “I remember now,” Teruo choked out. He forced himself not to cough again as he took a breath. “It was bothering me so much when I met Knightmon. He reminded me of a character in a book I tried to read once. I only got so far in it, but I remember a knight who had been hired by the main character’s neighbors to bring him back to his senses and send him home where he belonged. The knight was called the exact same thing Knightmon called me—the Knight of Mirrors.”

            Aldhamon shook his head. “You’re still reaching back for fairytales. This is real life. You can’t just expect it to turn out the way you always read.”

            “Don’t you?” Teruo asked. “You’re just as idealistic as I am, or at least, you were before you came here. Sometimes, I think you still are.” Some of the metal from the organ had cooled into a fairly flat surface, allowing Teruo to see his distorted reflection in it. “I’m always ever on one side of the mirror, never looking into it myself. Maybe I’m just afraid of what I’ll see. After all, my attack is called Dark Reflection. An ordinary mirror would just show my reflection, but one that’s supposed to show an offset, a dark reflection… Who would it show? Would it show my opposite, or would it show someone who I easily could be like if things were different?” He looked up from the slag-mirror and stared at Aldhamon. “Who do you see in the mirror? You or me?”

            “You’ve got a lot of nerve,” Aldhamon said, dropping to the floor and picking Teruo up by his shirt. “I could kill you right now. I could crush you, impale you, burn you…”

            “But you wouldn’t,” Teruo replied. “Because that’s not you.”

            A bright aura formed around Teruo, and Aldhamon dropped him at once. Teruo landed lightly on his feet, almost as if he was floating. Confused, he looked at his D-tector and saw Seraphimon’s emblem shining on it. It seemed the Fractal Code was finally purified and ready for use.

            “Let’s try this out,” he decided, concentrating the aura into his hand. While it didn’t form true Fractal Code the way a Spirit would, it took the form of sparkling light in his palm. He scanned this through his D-tector and cried out anyway, “Execute Spirit Evolution!”

            There were a thousand reasons why it shouldn’t have worked, and tops on the list was “Humans aren’t supposed to evolve into Digimon.” Evolving with a Spirit was one thing—it formed a hybrid that definitely wasn’t human, but wasn’t quite all Digimon. But somehow, the rules had been broken, and Seraphimon stood before Aldhamon, ready to fight.

            “That’s not…” Aldhamon stammered. “That’s not possible!”

            “After all we’ve been through, I thought you’d know what’s possible and what isn’t,” Teruo said. He held out his hands and seven spheres of golden light formed. “Strike of the Seven Stars!”

            Knowing how powerful the attack was from seeing ShadowSeraphimon’s variant, Aldhamon flew into the air. The attack sailed through the air and obliterated the back wall of the church. Even so, he smirked. “You’re strong, I’ll give you that,” he admitted. “But you’re way too slow.”

            He formed another Solar Wind Destroyer just as Seraphimon held his left hand over his right gauntlet. There was a soft glow of golden energy—nearly impossible to see with the glaring flame-light of the fireball building—as he transmuted the armor into a mounted sword. Aldhamon released the fireball, knowing that Seraphimon was too slow to dodge it. Instead, Seraphimon brought up his sword, cutting the attack right in half.

            Aldhamon had no time to hover there in shock, because Seraphimon flew up to him, swinging his sword. Aldhamon immediately blocked with the only defensive weapons he had—his guns. While Seraphimon may have been slow at dodging, he was much faster at striking. Aldhamon had no time to fire off any shots; the sword slashed at him too often. Finally, inspiration struck, and he crossed his arms, catching the blade in the crossed space created between the two activated guns. With a hard yank, he managed to break the blade. He smirked in success before seeing Teruo’s left hand come up, sparking with electricity. It caught him in the abdomen and sent him reeling back.

            “Cheap trick,” he said through clenched teeth.

            “I’m holding nothing back,” Seraphimon answered calmly. “If you think you’re going to win, you’re dead wrong.”

            Aldhamon snorted. “You’re getting cocky. It’s going to take a lot more than a stolen evolution to beat me.”

            He could almost hear the smirk on Teruo’s true face as he said, “Funny, because that’s exactly what it looks like it takes to beat you.”

            Fire and electricity sent sparks through the air, sometimes fizzling out before hitting the floor and sometimes catching flame. But they were small fires that were easily blown out by a flap of Aldhamon’s wings when he tried to fly higher or swoop across. The stars that flew around were not as easy to extinguish. Everywhere the stars hit in the church, they tore holes. It was a miracle the area was still standing.

            Seraphimon pulled back and readied a Strike of the Seven Stars just as Aldhamon set off a Solar Wind Destroyer. The stars and the sun collided, and as could be expected, there was a massive explosion. Whatever was left of the church was completely blown away in a blaze of hot wind and energy. All the fires were put out, unable to burn from the rush of air and power, despite the increased heat and flame. It was just too intense. Even the two Digimon were blown aside by it. Finally, Seraphimon emerged from the wreckage, largely unscathed because of his high defensive abilities, and took a brief moment to stare at the destruction all around him. The walls of the church had been blown out, sending the roof crashing on top of them. Beyond that was a bright, featureless sky. It didn’t even seem right to call it a sky. There was no sun, no stars, or anything—just light.

            Hearing Aldhamon stirring underneath the remnants of the roof, Seraphimon got into a defensive position, and not a moment too soon. Taking advantage of his speed, Aldhamon charged at him, grabbing him and throwing him across the ruins. Unable to react quickly, Seraphimon was forced to take it when he crashed into the debris. At least his armor was strong enough that he hardly felt it. He formed a blade on his right wrist again and readied a charge of electricity in his left hand. The next time Aldhamon came at him, he slashed at him. When it missed, he at least managed to hit a wing with the electrical charge. That got a reaction; Takuya shouted in pain and stopped long enough for Teruo to come at him with the sword. Aldhamon tried to fly out of the way, but he wasn’t fast enough and took a slash to the arm. The blade didn’t cut all the way through the armor, but it did penetrate through in a few places, cutting the skin underneath. Another blast of stars came at him, but he quickly avoided them. He’d gotten so used to dodging the moment he saw the golden spheres that he didn’t think that there might be only six of them instead of seven. The seventh was still in Teruo’s control, and he sent it right off to where Takuya had moved, taking advantage of the light all around them to camouflage it. There was a cry of pain as the star hit Aldhamon’s arm in roughly the same place his armor had broken. Weakened, it was crushed and dug into his skin. Adding insult to injury, the metal was still hot from the fire and stars. It wouldn’t be enough to cause permanent damage—especially not for a fire elemental—but it was a handicap.

            With one arm injured, Aldhamon’s attacks were reduced. He tried to fire from his remaining gun, but these scattered fireballs were easy enough for Seraphimon to dodge. He kept flying forward, even as Aldhamon figured out his plan and started to fly away. He was faster, but that meant nothing with the injuries he’d taken during the battle. In retrospect, he’d wonder if Teruo planned every attack he made; his wings were sore from the electricity, he couldn’t use his Solar Wind Destroyer because of his arm, he was weakened from the explosion… Ultimately, Seraphimon caught up and managed to get in front of him. His hand was sparking with electricity as he punched Aldhamon in the face. If there was anything he’d learned from fighting Velgemon, it was that a direct attack to the head was always a good one.

            Aldhamon went flying to the ground and devolved on impact. Teruo let go of his own evolution, dropping to the ground rather lightly. The borrowed Fractal Code streamed out of his D-tector and through a portal leading to the outside. He sighed in relief. It was over; everything was finally over.

            Well, not quite everything. There was still the matter of the evolution to take care of. He closed his eyes and raised his D-tector, allowing himself to merge with the Spirit. As he ascended and felt the power washing over him, he felt his consciousness split into ten parts, across the different fields. Seeing the battles his friends were in, some of them winning and some of them losing, he opened portals in the fields of Water, Earth, Wood, Darkness, and Light, sending their occupants to the outside.

            ~~~

            Three things happened suddenly that utterly shocked the trio of Digimon standing outside Sakkakumon, watching their human friends fight for their lives. The first was Seraphimon’s digiegg floating up to the Beast Spirit and sending beams of light to Katsuharu’s and Teppei’s battles. The second was the stream of Fractal Code that hit the egg after Teruo’s battle ended, half-electrocuting Bokomon while he was carrying the egg in his belt. And the third was the return of nine of the children, making a pretty bumpy landing after their battles ended.

            Immediately, the two groups of Warriors hurried to tend to their own. Teppei waved everyone off when they saw the bloody mess his face was, insisting that it only looked bad; it had healed up with his evolution. Katsuharu was grateful for their help in getting to his feet as he tried to catch his breath. Tommy was beaten up, but he was sullen and wouldn’t let the others come near him. Takuya and Koji were in decent condition, meaning that they were at least on their feet and not too worse for the wear, even though Koji was exchanging death glares with Koichi. Once this was settled, Bokomon figured it was time to alert them to the newest crisis on their hands:

            “I think the baby’s coming!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.

            To their credit, no one on Katsuharu’s team dropped dead, but they did stare at each other in mingled confusion (was this even possible?) and horror (forget asking if it was, why was it happening?).

            “What do we do?” Teppei asked Katsuharu.

            “Why are you asking me?” he demanded. “Just because I’m the leader, it doesn’t mean I can deliver babies!”

            “Your brother-in-law’s a doctor!”

            “So that makes me the expert?”

            All in all, they were completely useless. Give them an army to fight, and they were on top of it. Give them a baby to deliver, and all they could do was stand around bickering.

            “Will you all just shut up and help already?” Bokomon shouted. He screamed in agony again, just as the Warriors were starting to gather their wits, and they lost it again.

            “Why’s he even going into labor in the first place?” Katsuharu complained, roped into having to deliver by virtue of being the leader. “He’s just carrying the egg! It’s not like he’s giving real birth!”

            “Oh, do not go there,” Teppei insisted.

            “Wait,” J.P. realized. “That wouldn’t be Seraphimon’s digiegg, would it?”

            “What, are you going to start a fight over a baby?” Chiaki snapped. “And at a time like this?” There was another scream, as if to accentuate her point.

            A crack formed in the eggshell, and a soft light started to shine out. It gradually got stronger until the egg finally burst open in a puff of smoke that completely obscured the Warriors. It cleared quickly enough, and a Patamon hovered just above Bokomon.

            “A…pink belt…” Takuya noticed.

            “Oh, please no,” Koichi muttered.

            Bokomon started to tear up at the sight of the baby, and even more so when Patamon flew over to him with a delighted cry of “Papa-mom!”

            “What was that?” J.P. asked, unable to believe what he’d heard.

            “Oh, God, my brain!” Teppei complained. Nobody bothered to comment.

            It couldn’t escape Katsuharu’s notice for long that one of his teammates was still missing. While the others were either (as in the case of Bokomon) cooing over Patamon or (as in the case of just about everybody else on the scene) lamenting their broken brains, he glanced at the darkened Sakkakumon.

            Teruo, you have to make this fast, he thought. I don’t know how much longer this truce is going to last.

            ~~~

            Splitting his consciousness across ten miniature, self-contained “worlds” was not an easy process. Teruo naturally fought it, refusing to be ripped into so many pieces. But the process became easier once the others had been ejected from the Spirit. It was simpler to assimilate the memories recorded by the spheres than to assimilate the people within them.

            As his mind started to merge with the Spirit, he suddenly found himself in another world, one within his mind. It was a dark, stormy hall, and he instinctively flinched at every bolt of lightning he saw streak by. All along the walls were mirrors, and inside the mirrors were visions of the different spheres. He moved slowly along, watching tranquil scenes within uninhabited spheres transition to the battles his friends had faced. He stared in horror at the brutal attacks they took and the ones they made themselves. Unable to take it anymore, he ran.

            The mirrors along the walls didn’t show the scenes anymore, but neither did they show his reflection. As he ran down, he could see somebody else pass by in each mirror. Sometimes it was his evolution. Sometimes it was one of the Warriors, good or evil. The more he tried to run away from them, the more they seemed to follow. Voices echoed in the hall, memories of the battles that he hadn’t fought, yet were all so clear to him as if he had been right there.

            “This is what you do to us… You tear us down before we even know what we’re doing. And you don’t even realize you’re doing this.”

            “I haven’t done a thing!” Teruo protested.

            “You know, I feel bad for him. You won’t believe it, but I really do. He tries so hard, and you barely notice. You’re too caught up in someone else.”

            The hall he was running down abruptly ended, crossing with another hall of mirrors. Teruo didn’t stop in time and crashed right into the mirror. It shattered, and the glass fell right on top of him. He lay there for a moment, trembling in fear.

            “You going to run away and cry?”

            That sounded like a good idea, as a matter of fact. He turned and ran down the adjacent hall, as the mirrors all around him started to shatter.

            “Is that really what you think of yourself? Those are your words, not mine.”

            “Just go already!” he cried. “Stop!”

            “I have the power to destroy your world with just one word. And I already have.”

            “You keep talking about me ‘leading on’…but are you saying that because that’s what you see yourself doing?”

            “That’s not me,” he insisted. “That’s not my memory!”

            He slid on some of the broken glass and fell.

            “You’re just the same little weakling you’ve always been, too afraid to defend yourself.”

            “Are you ready to take that next step, get rid of your humanity altogether? If you are, fine. Not like I can stop you anyway. Just goes to show you weren’t as good as I thought you were.”

            “I won’t,” he whispered, and the mirrors all around him exploded, burying him in their fragments.

            “That’s not enough. That won’t ever be enough.”

            ~~~

            A new shout tore through the air, and immediately, Patamon and Lopmon stopped playing and quickly dove for cover—Patamon within the safety of Bokomon’s belt, and Lopmon behind Chiaki. Both were shivering in terror.

            “What’s going on?” Chiaki asked.

            “A bad thing’s happening,” Patamon murmured.

            “It won’t stop,” Lopmon agreed.

            “What ‘bad thing’?” Bokomon asked.

            Both of them pointed toward Sakkakumon, who no longer looked so dark. A mouth had formed on the top sphere, and it was that mouth that was shouting incomprehensively.

            “Wait, that’s Teruo’s voice,” Koichi realized.

            “Did he evolve?” Katsuharu asked.

            Sakkakumon suddenly drew in on himself, losing the Tree of Life formation and becoming nothing more than a shifting mass of spheres. Attacks wildly started shooting out of the spheres—fire, ice, water, lighting, wind, leaves, stone, light, and darkness. Everybody moved quickly to get away from the attacks coming at them as the screams continued. It was the worst thing any of them had ever heard, worse even than Velgemon’s battle cries. And when it finally stopped, the shifting stopped as well. But nobody took that as a good sign.

            “What’s happening?” Takuya demanded.

            As if in response to his voice, a volley of fireballs came shooting at them. After managing to get to relative safety, Teppei chose to dignify that question with a response:

            “Put bluntly, we’re screwed.”

 

Major thanks to Ryan Griffin and Shaun Garin for help with this. I have been waiting to do this chapter for such a long time, and I’m glad it’s finally done. This is really the turning point for the entire series. The title comes from a character in Don Quixote, and I’ve been meaning to expand on the reference since chapter thirteen. In the musical Man of La Mancha, the Knight of the Mirrors is key to bringing Don Quixote back to sanity, but because of this, he is the villain (as opposed to Teruo being the hero for doing much the same thing against Takuya). Teruo’s Spirit vision was partially inspired by the 1996 Doctor Who movie, in which the Doctor awakens in a hospital with amnesia and finds he can’t recognize his own reflection in several broken mirrors.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-seven: “Destroyer”

            “Teruo, stop!” Chiaki begged.

            “Yeah, come on, man! You can control this!” Teppei insisted.

            Sakkakumon didn’t appear to hear them, however, and simply shifted to blast a water attack at them, followed by another shift and an earth attack. Seeing this pattern, Bokomon shouted, “He’s responding to your voices! He’s matching your elements each time he hears you!”

            “Damn,” Katsuharu breathed, keeping his voice just low enough that Sakkakumon couldn’t hear. He glanced toward Ophanimon’s Warriors, and Koichi caught his look.

            “No,” he whispered.

            “Do you have any better ideas?” A second later, he thought better of his comment and replied, “Sorry. What I mean is, Sakkakumon can fight with all ten elements. We can’t beat him with just four.”

            Koichi’s shoulders sagged with the realization. “You’re right,” he confessed.

            They signaled for Chiaki and Teppei to follow them as they ran past the attacks to Ophanimon’s Warriors. Ignoring the pointed stares he was getting from both sides, Katsuharu said, “We’re going to need to work together on this one.”

            “We have no reason to fight your battle,” Koji answered.

            “And what makes you think that Teruo’s going to let you escape?” Koichi asked, the venom in his voice thick. “I didn’t, after all, and he was the one who figured out how to distract me so you could get out of there. Whatever’s still left of him in there is going to know that trick.”

            “You know what’s going on?” Takuya asked in surprise.

            Koichi exchanged a cautious look with his teammates, and Teppei shrugged. Katsuharu gave him a resigned look, so he answered, “It’s Spirit possession. If the Spirit is too powerful, its will can overshadow your own. A small part of you is still conscious in there, but it’s mostly emotional. In my case, it was rage and pain.”

            “So you know how to fight him?” J.P. asked. Koichi reluctantly nodded.

            “All right,” Takuya decided. “We’ll help, but just this once. When this is over…”

            “Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Katsuharu replied.

            Koichi noticed that Koji was shooting him death glares. Finally, he said, “Grow up. You know this is the only chance either of us has.”

            Koji started to make a retort, but when he couldn’t think of anything, he turned away. Koichi smirked in satisfaction.

            In unison, the nine whipped out their D-tectors and exposed their Fractal Code. There were five shouts of “Execute Beast Spirit Evolution!” and four of “Execute, now! Fusion Evolution!” It should have been a hopeful sound, an omen that someday, the Warriors would be united again. But the missing tenth voice made it all too clear that they were not united at all.

            The opening salvo came from Sakkakumon, who attacked based on the last voice he’d heard before the chaos of the nine evolution commands. A blast of darkness from a copied Dark Master came at them, so the most agile of them leapt back or flew out of the way. Beowolfmon held it off with his sword, giving MetalKabuterimon the chance to retaliate with a Bolo Thunder. When it impacted, the electricity coursed through Sakkakumon, immobilizing him.

            “That did it!” Korikakumon cried.

            But he was soon proven wrong when the energy faded and Sakkakumon shifted and fired the Bolo Thunder at him. Aldhamon managed to fire a Solar Wind Destroyer into it in time, causing the two attacks to explode and throw aside anyone too close.

            “Great,” Aldhamon muttered. “He can repeat attacks too?”

            A barrage of missiles and lasers came at them next. Ymirmon leapt up and smashed at a few missiles with his mace and Aldhamon shot at others, both using the extra fire to confound their heat-seeking abilities. Zephyrmon’s Hurricane Gale threw them off-course and into each other or simply cut them in half. Calmaramon and JagerLoewemon found an opening to attack physically, so they hit with Titanic Tempest and Dark Master, taking care to avoid the lasers. They managed to get past his defenses just fine, but striking was the hard part. Calmaramon bounced off and had to shift evolutions to land before sliding back into her Beast-type form, and JagerLoewemon couldn’t make a dent.

            “Physical attacks are useless,” he warned the other Warriors. “He has some kind of secondary defense. Even I can’t break through it.”

            “Let’s see what I can do,” Ymirmon decided. “I’ve been holding this one back. It’s kind of overkill, but I think we need it. Ragnarok!”

            The overcast skies, darkened by the endless storm of the Rose Morning Star, opened suddenly and let the true night sky appear for the first time over the Continent of Darkness. Shooting stars streaked overhead; burning meteorites came plummeting toward the battle. Suddenly, everyone knew why Teppei had called it overkill. Immediately, they ran for cover as the meteorites struck Sakkakumon immediately. Ymirmon was breathing a little heavily—the attack had cost him—but Sakkakumon had fallen to the ground, unmoving.

            “Is he…” Calmaramon started, but before she could even finish asking, Sakkakumon started shifting again. He managed to get back up and started shooting meteorites back at them.

            “Run away, run away!” Ymirmon ordered, running at top speed out of the line of fire.

            There wasn’t much to hide behind in the wastelands, so the Warriors ducked into a shallow trench, shifting evolutions if needed to fit.

            “This should be working,” Beetlemon said. “We keep hitting him with our best attacks.”

            “We need…” Beowolfmon and JagerLoewemon started, but upon the realization that they were speaking in unison, they stopped and glared at one another. Finally, Beowolfmon picked up with “We need a new plan.”

            “Thank you, Obvious Brothers,” Ymirmon muttered, not flinching at the double glare he received, nor questioning it. “Got anything in mind?”

            There was silence for a minute before Beetlemon said, “You know, I think I might have something. He has to shift every time he attacks, right? So he probably can’t attack from two elements at the same time.”

            “That makes sense,” Ranamon realized. “So we hit him with combination attacks?”

            “Yeah,” he answered. “Just keep switching partners and slide evolving. At least that might slow him down, on the off-chance I’m wrong.”

            “First thing, though,” Aldhamon interrupted, “we need to get him to stop shooting meteors at us.”

            “I can take care of that one,” Xolotlmon volunteered. “But I’m going to need J.P., Koichi, and Teppei.”

            He leapt out of the trench, signaling to the others to keep far behind him. Several poinsettias formed in front of him and went flying out with a cry of “Xochitl!” They barely did a thing however—Sakkakumon shifted and absorbed the attack.

            “What is he doing?” Zephyrmon asked. “Doesn’t he get that attacking alone is pointless?”

            But to her surprise, Aldhamon grinned and said, “That’s genius!”

            What she hadn’t seen, but Aldhamon had anticipated was that Sakkakumon started shooting the poisonous flowers in retaliation, instead of the meteorites. Xolotlmon could charge right through the barrage, being immune to his own poisons. Beetlemon’s armor had already proven to be too thick for the poinsettias to cut through, and Ymirmon’s skin was even thicker. And while JagerLoewemon’s armor wasn’t quite as good as Ymirmon’s skin, he was also immune to poison, as far as anyone could tell.

            Once they’d gotten past the initial defenses, they put the rest of the plan into action. A shot of electricity went into Ymirmon’s mace just before he smashed it into the ground, initiating his Troll Cracker. As the ground split, buried and decaying plant matter was exposed to Xolotlmon’s Cuauhunacayotl ability, and the lightning jumped into it. The plants wrapped themselves around Sakkakumon as best as they could, releasing the electricity. He shouted in pain and tried to shift, but he didn’t have a Wood-Thunder Sphere for a plant-lightning attack. Just as he’d managed to throw the electrified peat off himself, JagerLoewemon and Beetlemon hit him with a combined Ebony Blast-Lightning Blitz.

            Encouraged by this, the others jumped into the fray. A vortex of fire and bladed wind came at Sakkakumon, cutting off the attacks he tried to throw at them. Beowolfmon’s Frozen Hunter took on a whole new meaning when combined with Kumamon’s Crystal Breeze—as it hit Sakkakumon, sharp ice crystals bit into him.

            Sakkakumon shifted and blasted a retaliating Frozen Hunter at them. Almost everyone managed to get out of the way, but for those who couldn’t, JagerLoewemon had switched to Loewemon’s form and was holding it off as best as he could with his shield. He was joined soon by Aldhamon, who said, “This isn’t enough. We need to mix it up.”

            “We have to stop sticking with just our own teams,” Loewemon insisted. “There are nine of us—we need to make the most of that.”

            “I hear you,” Ymirmon agreed. Turning to Zephyrmon, he called out, “Hey, sweetheart, mind teaming up? I think I’ve got something.”

            Though disgusted with his joking attempts to hit on her, Zephyrmon agreed and carried him up to Sakkakumon’s height. She then threw him at Sakkakumon and started a Hurricane Gale while Ymirmon smashed down with his mace and summoned another Ragnarok. The magical blades and meteorites hit him like machine gun fire, and Ymirmon tossed up his mace to Zephyrmon while he recovered from the attack. She caught it with both hands glowing red, and the Plasma Pods spread to envelope the mace. With a vicious battle cry, she slammed it down, managing to hit the core sphere hidden in the center. He shouted in agony and threw both of them off.

            “Nice one,” Ymirmon complimented, still trying to catch his breath when she gave him back his mace. “Guess you’re not just a pretty face.”

            This time, she smirked. “And don’t forget it.”

            The success of this combination was just what everyone needed to forget whose side they were on and focus on the real problem. Legendary Warriors and Ophanimon’s Warriors were forgotten. Past grudges were put aside as they joined forces and tried whatever strategies they could think of. Some of them exchanged weapons, just as Ymirmon had done. Even though it had been grudgingly, Beowolfmon lent his sword to Calmaramon to aid her Titanic Tempest—it may have been too heavy for her to swing, but she could at least hold it out while spinning in circles. Korikakumon gave one ax to Ymrimon and the other to Xolotlmon as they teamed up with Beowolfmon and Aldhamon. Missiles and fireballs fired in a melee to front and back and axes struck from side to side.

            Calmaramon reverted to Ranamon’s form and started making a storm cloud. “Zoë, J.P., Tommy!” They turned to look at her. “How big a storm do you think we could make?”

            “Let’s find out,” Korikakumon decided, sliding again into Kumamon’s form and taking out his snowball launcher.

            Snowballs, wind, and lightning went into the cloud, and it took a great deal of control for Ranamon to get it to hold together and not dump itself on them. When the miniature hurricane was completed, she threw it toward Sakkakumon. Freezing rain and sleet and snow drenched him, sapping his power while bladed gusts and lightning struck him over and over. He yelled in pain and fired lightning back at them, but they were able to dodge it easily.

            “That should have weakened his defenses,” Ranamon warned, leaping out of the way when Sakkakumon sent a stream of water out in response to her voice. “Try physical attacks again!”

            “In a minute. Koji, back me up!” Aldhamon ordered, readying a Solar Wind Destroyer.

            Seeing that Sakkakumon was about to fire the exact same attack, Loewemon shot a Shadow Meteor at him, interrupting the attack. Distracted, Sakkakumon changed to a responding Shadow Meteor at Loewemon. He had no time to form a shield or dodge, so he was forced to take the hit. It at least gave Aldhamon and Beowolfmon enough time to send a merged Solar Wind Destroyer-Frozen Hunter at his unprotected side. After it had impacted, Loewemon picked himself up, leaning on his staff at first to regain his balance, and saw Beowolfmon watching him.

            “Don’t bother thanking me,” he said.

            Beowolfmon snorted. “Hardly.”

            Zephyrmon, who had been flying overhead, heard this and groaned in exasperation. “Whatever your problem is, get over it, you two! Ugh, is this the way all boys act, or just the ones I hang out with?”

            Ignoring her complaints, the duo took their weapons to the bladed winds that came at them now, also choosing to ignore the fact that they worked incredibly well together.

            At some point, everyone had not only forgotten that they were enemies, but they’d also forgotten who they were fighting. It was easy enough to do—you get caught up in the rush of battle, and suddenly the other guy is nothing more than an obstacle in your way. And it was so easy with the Spirits to forget this.  You couldn’t see the true face of the person you were fighting. Aldhamon pulled back to fire his Atomic Inferno, but he stopped when he heard the shouts and cries of battle. Calmaramon yelled viciously as she slammed into Sakkakumon, and JagerLoewemon charged into him with an equally fierce cry. Xolotlmon and Ymirmon were just as ruthless as they attacked with poisoned flowers and the earth. Not one of them heard the cries Sakkakumon gave in response, but for some reason, Aldhamon did, and they put a chill down his spine. They sounded so human.

            Well, of course. They should. He was.

            There was a flash of light behind everyone as Takuya devolved and very deliberately walked forward. Xolotlmon was the first he passed, and he asked in shock, “What are you doing? Are you trying to get killed?”

            “Takuya!” Beetlemon cried. “Evolve now!”

            “Not a chance,” he answered.

            Beetlemon flew over to Xolotlmon as they watched Takuya continued his march toward Sakkakumon. Xolotlmon asked, “Is he always this bullheaded?”

            “Pretty much, but this is the dumbest thing he’s done yet!” Beetlemon replied.

            “Takuya, what the hell are you doing?” Beowolfmon demanded, he and JagerLoewemon quickly holding off an attack coming toward him.

            “Great, he’s lost it!” Ymirmon muttered to Korikakumon, who stared in confusion.

            “What are you doing?” he asked.

            “You’ll see,” Takuya promised.

            “Takuya, you’re going to get killed!” Zephyrmon cried.

            “He’s out of control,” Calmaramon reminded him. “You need to either get out of here or fight.”

            Such a tone would have scared off anyone, but Takuya wasn’t about to put up with it. He fixed her with a hard stare and said, “Look, he’s just a scared kid with more power than he can handle, and all we’re doing is shooting at him. Of course he’s going to fight back! Wouldn’t the rest of you?”

            Taken aback, Calmaramon couldn’t respond. She and Zephyrmon were only able to watch with the others as Takuya walked right up to Sakkakumon, ignoring the attacks that came within feet of him. Then, looking up at the massive Sakkakumon, he cried, “Teruo, this has to stop!”

            There was a shift, and Sakkakumon aimed an orb at him. The others were about to jump into action when Takuya shouted, “Not another step! You guys are supposed to be his friends, and you keep attacking him. I don’t know about the rest of you, but if I was in his shoes, I’d want someone to stop shooting.” To Sakkakumon, he said, “Teruo, I know you’re going through a lot of pain right now. Believe me, it wasn’t hard controlling my Beast Spirit either. But you have to get control over it. You asked me what I see when I look in your mirror. Now I’m asking you—what are you seeing? Take a long, hard look at it. I know it scares you, but you have to. You need to, to figure out who you are.”

            And somewhere, in the hall of broken mirrors, Teruo heard him and lifted his head, disrupting the broken pieces and powdered glass that covered him. At the end of the hall was a mirror—one of Mercurymon’s shields. Teruo caught the briefest glimpse of his reflection and started crying.

            Fractal Code wrapped around Sakkakumon, engulfing such a huge area that it was a surprise to see an eleven-year-old boy kneeling in the dirt when it came undone. Teruo was crying, for all accounts completely unaware of everyone else’s presence. Immediately, his teammates started to run over to him, but Takuya held up a hand, stepping back.

            “Everybody, stay back,” he ordered. “Give him some breathing room.” And from his distance away, he asked gently, “Teruo, are you all right?”

            Teruo looked up at him with an agonized look on his face, tears running down his cheeks. Following Takuya’s lead, Koichi devolved and got closer.

            “Teruo, it’s going to be okay,” he insisted, kneeling down. “I had it just as hard. But you all helped me through it. We’re going to do the same for you.”

            Hearing these words, this gentle voice, made Koji growl in anger. After everything Koichi had said and done to him, how could he just turn around and show a completely different face to his teammate?

            Before he or anyone else knew what he was doing, Beowolfmon had held out his sword and formed a Frozen Hunter. At the last second, Takuya shouted, “Look out!” and shoved Koichi out of the way of the attack. Teruo stood up to try and run over to help, but he only ran into the line of fire. The Frozen Hunter hit him and sent him flying. He hit the ground, skidding as his Fractal Code encircled him. While he lay there unconscious, Beowolfmon ran over and grabbed his Spirits, for no apparent reason.

            “What the hell are you doing?” Takuya demanded, getting up from where he’d fallen while knocking Koichi aside. But he soon found himself staring down the sword, and he realized that his friend was going to stop at nothing to get Koichi. Koichi seemed to have figured this out too, as he gripped his D-tector and glared with unparalleled hatred; Takuya didn’t blame him one bit, and he was prepared to join him.

            Before anyone could fire a shot, Ymirmon burst out of the ground behind Beowolfmon and smacked him hard in the back of his head with his mace. Koji went down and devolved, sprawled out unconscious on the ground much the same way Teruo was, only in far better condition. When everyone looked at him, Ymirmon shrugged and hefted his mace over his shoulder.

            “Sorry, it slipped,” he said, not even bothering to make his lie sound convincing. “Big honking mace, you know?”

            “Yeah,” Takuya agreed. “Must be hard to carry.”

            “Yep,” Ymirmon replied.

            “Fine,” he decided. “Come on, guys. Grab Koji, and let’s go.”

            “You can’t just go!” Xolotlmon protested. “What about Teruo? What about his Spirits?”

            Takuya gave him a sincerely regretful look and said, “There’s nothing we can do with them in Koji’s D-tector. I’m sorry, I really am. I don’t know what happened there. He normally doesn’t do that.”

            Koichi looked down in sudden guilt. “No, he doesn’t.”

            Beetlemon lifted Koji over his shoulder and gave them an equally troubled look. Zephyrmon and Korikakumon looked back for a moment before they took off. Takuya evolved once more to Aldhamon and flew behind them.

            The Digimon emerged from their hiding place and joined the Legendary Warriors as they devolved and stood around Teruo’s unconscious body, completely at a loss for what to do. Finally, unable to do much else, they set up camp on the spot and used whatever was available to try and treat his wounds.

            ~~~

            Ophanimon, or at least a projection of her, was waiting at their current base of operations when they arrived. Everyone got out of Takuya’s way as he stormed toward her, either unaware or uncaring that she could strike him down where he stood for insubordination.

            “What is wrong with him?” he growled out, pointing back at Koji, who was slumped against a wall, still unconscious.

            “You’re playing dangerously,” Ophanimon warned, ignoring his question. “While I understand how important it was that you work with the other Warriors to bring down Sakkakumon, it’s not wise to get as involved as you did.”

            “That’s not the point,” Takuya answered. “I want to know why Koji was willing to kill me to get an unarmed enemy. You know he wouldn’t do that. What is up with him?”

            While she didn’t show any sign of surprise, Ophanimon did appear concerned. Finally, she said, “Bring him here.”

            J.P. half-carried him, as if he was able to limp with help. When he reached Ophanimon, she picked Koji up with no effort and held him cradled in her arms like a small child.

            “I will keep him with me for now to see what caused such a drastic change in his personality,” she promised. “And Takuya?” His gaze snapped up from Koji to her as she fixed him with a pleading look. “Please understand that I’m only trying to protect you. I was worried about what the other Warriors might say or do against you. While my words may be harsh, it’s only for your own benefit.”

            “Yes, Lady Ophanimon,” Takuya sighed. “I’m sorry.”

            “As am I, for whatever has happened to Koji,” she admitted.

            As she left with the faint scent of flowers in her wake, Takuya found a spot against the wall to sit down and rest. He had a feeling this was going to be a very long night.

            ~~~

            Shards of broken glass littered the floor as Teruo walked through the hall of mirrors again. The walls were bare, the glass in the mirrors having fallen out to shatter even further on the floor. The fragments crunched under his feet as he cautiously walked through, making his way over to the lone mirror at the end of the hallway. When he finally reached it, he hesitated for a moment before peering into it. Nine different faces flashed through it before it finally settled on his reflection and cracked.

            Teruo woke up screaming, and his friends quickly snapped awake and rushed to his side, trying to help him. They offered comforting words, tried to soothe him, tried to ask him what was wrong, but he couldn’t speak. He was so caught up in his nightmare that all he could do was scream until his voice went hoarse and it finally hurt too much to continue. They re-bandaged his injuries and tried to get him to eat or drink something, but by then, he was crying too hard and choked on everything he tried to swallow. Finally, all they could do was let him cry himself back to sleep to wait for another nightmare. They’d never felt so helpless in their lives, and neither had he. They could at least say it. He couldn’t afford to.

 

This title, and indeed the inspiration for the battle, comes from the final episode of Justice League Unlimited. As the holidays (and final exams) are approaching soon, don’t expect regular updates until the craziness settles down.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-eight: “Fragile Child”

            Teruo was almost entirely silent for a week and a half following the battle. That was the thing about seeing everyone’s battles and feeling everything they’d gone through. It was so personal, so private, that he knew he didn’t have the right to know about it. Although he had no control over what had happened, he felt so vile for knowing.

            Even after those two weeks, he could only find it in himself to give short, quiet responses to Katsuharu, Teppei, and the Digimon. Talking to either Koichi or Chiaki was too awkward; as if it wasn’t bad enough that he had memories of Koichi’s psychological attack on Koji, he also had a new dimension to this love triangle, and one he’d never expected. He couldn’t think of a single book he’d read where two heroes loved the girl, and she them, and everyone lived happily ever after.

            Not only did he not talk, but he didn’t laugh and hardly smiled anymore. It worried the others.

            It was better than the nightmares, though. Sometimes, the dreams were lucid, but most of the time, they were just jumbled images and emotions. He woke up screaming for the better part of a month, making the whole Demon Lord affair seem tame in comparison. Worse still were the times when he couldn’t remember who he was when he awoke. On any given morning or night, he could wake as a different person, with their memories and emotions from the different fields. It would take several minutes and a glance at his empty D-tector to remind him who he was. He guessed he’d been each of the other Legendary Warriors at least once. He had been Takuya twice, however, and Teppei three times. Thankfully, he’d only been Koji once, but it had left enough of an impression that he didn’t need to wake up that way to re-experience the sensation of a psyche breaking as the truth tried to erase a lie.

            Every once in a while, he closed his eyes only to see a dark, stormy hall with mirrors lining the walls. He always woke up before the first mirror could break, and then lay awake, crying and trying not to fall back to sleep. It worked incredibly well, but he knew he worried the others with his pale, scared face with dark circles under his eyes. He scared himself too, every time he saw his reflection in the water, or on a smooth, shiny surface. He could hardly recognize himself anymore, and that was the worst part of the nightmares. How could he reassure himself of who he was if neither his looks nor his feelings were his anymore?

            He did feel a bit fortunate that Ophanimon’s Warriors hadn’t attacked in a while. But he knew the relative peace wouldn’t last (it would inevitably shatter). He also knew he would have to reveal everything to the others (that too was inevitable). He just hoped to prolong it for a while. Of everything he’d ever been cursed with (a brother who died before he could know him, a difficult birth that led to overprotective parents, a good friend and personal hero turned mortal enemy), knowledge was by all means the most painful.

            ~~~

            It was unusually quiet without Koji around. It was strange, since he wasn’t a big talker, but without him around, Takuya was less inclined to talk. He had no one to argue with, and in any case, he was worried about his odd behavior after the battle with Sakkakumon.

            It wasn’t just Takuya who was affected by this. J.P. had to fill in as team analyst now that Koji was gone. Yes, he was good at it, but his plans tended to be overly complex and often needed the others’ input on what to omit. Takuya didn’t call him on it, of course, because he was spending most of his time in an uncharacteristic melancholy.

            Zoë was on her way to see what she could do for Takuya when she saw J.P. sketching something out in the dirt. He looked up when he saw her approach and let her look over his shoulder.

            “A bridge?” she asked.

            “Yeah,” he answered. “I’ve always loved architecture and engineering. Someday, I want to build things, or at least design them.”

            “It looks tough,” she said.

            “Yeah, it is,” he admitted. “You have to figure out exactly how much it can hold and what it’ll take to hold it. You’ve got to make it practical and at the same time beautiful. Sometimes, you’ve got to sacrifice one for the other, and usually it’s the beauty.”

            “I can imagine.”

            “It’s kind of like what I’m doing now, only I’m a lot better at that than I am at this. I try to work these things out, figure out exactly who can do what, but it’s hard, you know? There’s only so much I can account for, and if I think of too many conditions, everything comes off scripted and predictable. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to it.”

            “We’ll get through it,” she promised, sitting down beside him. He looked at her, as if unsure, but she smiled. Finally, he resumed his drawing, this time adding scenery beyond the bridge—the two cities they it was trying to connect. Zoë stayed and watched, adding suggestions here and there. Takuya didn’t need her help; it was better that she stay beside someone who did right now.

            ~~~

            Koichi leaned back against the trunk of the tree he’d climbed, holding a scarce quantity of fruit in his arms. Though no one was really talking to each other much since the Sakkakumon incident, they needed to at least try to carry on as usual. Koichi appointed himself to get dinner that night, and it gave him the chance to get away from everyone for a few minutes and think. As much as he loved his friends, this was just one time when he had to get away.

            What did I do back there? he asked himself. It was a stupid question, one he was glad he hadn’t said out loud. Obviously, he’d lost his temper with Koji, said some things he was really regretting now, and made Koji mad enough to want revenge—not exactly a smart thing to do with someone under mind control. Even beside the fact, Koichi was out of line. If it had been the other way around, if someone had insulted Koichi’s mother, he was pretty sure he’d wind up doing much the same. But still, attacking Teruo like that, and trying to attack Takuya? That didn’t make sense, not for Koji.

            What do I really know about him anyway? he mused. Koji and Takuya said he wouldn’t attack someone unarmed, but Koichi had no way of knowing that for sure. Maybe Koji didn’t act that way in front of Takuya. Maybe he’d only said that to Koichi because he saw how terrified and pathetic he was back there, and something about that made him lower his guard. Maybe Koichi just wanted to believe so badly that his brother was heroic and noble and all that, that he was willing to make things up just to satisfy his fantasy.

            Wow. He sounded a lot like Teruo there.

            He picked some more fruit until he had enough to feed everyone. Most of it would go to the Digimon; the kids weren’t eating well since the Sakkakumon incident. He made a bundle of it with his outer shirt and jumped out of the tree, nearly landing right on Chiaki.

            “Sorry,” he apologized.

            “No, it’s okay,” she answered, trying to step out of his way. When she saw that he was about to step in the same direction, she stopped and he did the same. It seemed like they’d stood in front of each other like that for a very long time before they finally each took a step back to give the other room to walk.

            It had been a month since they’d spoken too. Chiaki had been actively avoiding both him and Teruo for the longest time, and he couldn’t figure out why. Finally, he said, “Listen, Chiaki…”

            The words hung in the air for a moment. Koichi had no idea what he was going to say and hoped that Chiaki would pick it up from there. When she hadn’t, he couldn’t help but feel incredibly stupid.

            “I’m sorry,” she said at last. “I’ve got to go.”

            She stepped around him and headed off into the woods. Kicking himself for blowing it, Koichi walked off into the opposite direction.

            Teruo was sitting in front of the fire when he got back. He didn’t blink as he stared into the flames, and it made Koichi nervous. It sounded like he was saying something under his breath, so Koichi asked, “What was that?”

            Teruo jumped about twelve feet at the sound of his voice; it was a miracle he didn’t land in the fire. It took several minutes for him to recover, all the while Koichi was apologizing and trying to help him calm down. Even so, he still looked scared, a fact not at all helped by the shadows lining his face.

            “I’m sorry,” Koichi apologized again, turning to check the fruit he’d dropped when he tried to help. It looked like some of it was bruised, but it would have to do. Still, he didn’t think he could stay here with Teruo so skittish. He placed the food down and left, not bothering to make up an excuse. Teruo didn’t seem to notice anyway.

            ~~~

            Another nightmare startled Teruo awake. Though it was one of the less extreme ones—simply the echoes of everyone’s voices and half-remembered images of battle against the other Warriors—the jumbled emotions were enough to keep him lying awake, trying to catch his breath.

            “What’s wrong, Teruo?” Patamon asked softly, crawling over. Though they’d never had a good introduction to one another—constant psychological trauma made that rather difficult—Patamon had at least decided that he liked him enough. “Why are you so sad all the time?”

            Somehow, it felt a little easier talking to the Digimon than to the others—probably because they hadn’t been inside Sakkakumon, but also because there was something different about his friendship with them compared to his friendships with the other Warriors.

            “It’s the nightmares,” he whispered. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

            Patamon tilted his head to the side. “Are you sure? It sounds like it’d be easier just to say what’s bothering you.”

            He managed to smile at that. “Maybe,” he whispered. “But I don’t think I can. I’m scared.”

            Patamon looked sad at his words and came closer to sleep. Teruo kept a hand on him, gently rubbing his fur near one of his ears. Eventually, it soothed one of them to sleep, while the other stared off into the night.

            ~~~

            Teppei had the morning watch—or whatever qualified for morning in a land without a sun—and saw that Chiaki was gone. Teruo was still awake, however, but barely responsive because of his exhaustion. Eventually, Teruo drifted off to a light sleep, leaving Teppei alone in the silence. He poked at their fire pit, stirring some air into the coals until it was a little warmer.

            “Chiaki’s gone?” someone whispered. He looked up and saw Koichi walking toward him, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

            “Yeah,” he answered. “Don’t know where she went—she was gone when I woke up.” Koichi sat down with a troubled frown. “I wouldn’t worry about it, though. She probably just needed to think.”

            “Must be a lot she’s thinking about, then,” he replied. “She’s been avoiding us enough.”

            “No kidding,” Teppei agreed. “I’m glad there’s someone I’m on speaking terms with. Teruo’s in shock, Chiaki’s constantly running off or running away, Katsuharu won’t even look at me… It’s crazy.”

            “The Digimon are fine with us,” Koichi reminded him.

            “Yeah, but the rest of us?” He shrugged. “It’s insane. From the day we met, we’ve had each other’s backs. It was no different when you came along. Yeah, we had some disagreements, but they were never bad enough that we couldn’t talk. Now look at us. You and I are the only two Warriors willing to talk to each other.” He poked the coals again. “I don’t know what’s going on. It feels like we’re falling apart, and I can’t figure out why. There’s no reason for it, you know?”

            “No,” Koichi argued, and Teppei looked at him in surprise. “There are reasons, but none of us are willing to say them—not even you or me.”

            Teppei smiled humorlessly and tossed his stick into the fire pit. It eventually caught fire and burned up. “You know, sometimes I wish you weren’t so damn insightful.”

            Koichi shrugged this time. “Sometimes I wish I was more. Then I could figure out what’s wrong with everyone.”

            “You and me both,” Teppei confessed.

            ~~~

            If there was one thing Tommy hated admitting, it was that Teppei’s words had gotten to him. Yes, it had been an angry outburst designed to throw him off-guard, but for a minute, Tommy hadn’t been facing Teppei. He’d been facing Yutaka. And for all the grief his brother had given him, he couldn’t deny that he’d usually been right. He was a pain in the butt and all the other things older brothers were, but he’d always been honest. Bluntly so, as a matter of fact. So if Yutaka said something and Teppei agreed without even knowing it, maybe there was some truth to it after all.

            What was his role on this team? Was he just a burden for the older kids? Takuya had adopted him as a little brother, but that was after Tommy had tried following the train tracks to back to the human world and nearly gotten himself killed. Takuya’s promise had been enough to make him try to turn back. But was that all it was? Just a few words to protect him? J.P. hadn’t though much of him at first. Zoë treated him like a little kid. Koji—well, Koji was Koji, but he’d been even stricter than usual when it came to him.

            I’m a Legendary Warrior, he reminded himself. He was one of Ophanimon’s chosen ones, the keeper of the Spirit of Ice. That had to count for something, right?

            He was on his way to talk to Takuya—about what, he wasn’t really sure—when he saw that his adopted brother’s quarters were empty. A check throughout the entire base revealed nothing. Zoë and J.P. were eating in their makeshift kitchen when he ran in, panting.

            “Tommy, what’s wrong?” Zoë asked.

            “Yeah, you look like you’re going to pass out,” J.P. agreed.

            “Guys, Takuya’s missing!”

            ~~~

            Somehow or another, Katsuharu had managed to get Chiaki to stay long enough to have the first watch. It would be a quiet one; Teruo would be fast asleep for the first time in weeks.

            Katsuharu stared at the crushed leaves he’d slipped in Teruo’s food. He felt like a louse for drugging him, but it was the only way he could ensure he would sleep through the night. Maybe it couldn’t stop the nightmares, but it could at least keep them from waking him up. He needed all the help he could get.

            “Doesn’t make me feel any better about it,” Katsuharu muttered, putting the handful of herbs back in the cloth pouch he’d gotten from Bokomon, who he’d just barely managed to keep in the dark. He hoped nobody would ever have to know about this, but he knew that realistically, it was impossible. Sooner or later, he’d run out of herbs or somebody would see him slipping them in Teruo’s meal or Teruo would grow immune.

            He headed toward the area he’d found the plants in, intending to pick up a few more to bring back and dry; they’d survive better on the road that way, in case he couldn’t find them again. He wasn’t on guard and wasn’t watching where he was going, which was why he nearly walked right into Takuya.

            “What the—” Takuya started, waking up Katsuharu enough to jump back.

            “What do you want?” he demanded.

            “What’s it to you?” Takuya yelled back.

            It didn’t take long for either of them to pull out their D-tectors. Katsuharu couldn’t help but feel a little relieved. Taking out misplaced aggression was always one of his favorite activities. With a dual shout of “Execute, now! Fusion Evolution!” Aldhamon and Xolotlmon began their fight.

            It was a somewhat halfhearted battle, but it didn’t mean that they didn’t try to beat the living daylights out of each other. It just meant that was their only goal. Aldhamon shot Xolotlmon’s Xochitl flowers out of the sky with his Atomic Inferno. When the trees and plants around him became animate and attacked, Aldhamon atomized them with a massive fireball. It didn’t hamper Xolotlmon in the least—the ground was fertile enough for him to call life back into the roots and to sprout seeds. The more Aldhamon tried to destroy them with fire, the more Xolotlmon fought back, awakening fire-germinating seeds and sending them into the fray when trees and other plants were more vulnerable. A little more manipulation allowed the stems of these weeds to become woodier and stronger, holding Aldhamon long enough for a tree branch to slam into him. It sent him toward the ground, and the branch moved to hit him again.

            Aldhamon yanked himself free before the tree could pummel him again. He didn’t have time to blast a Solar Wind Destroyer at it, so he settled for flying out of the way and then blasting it into oblivion. The hot wind and flames hit Xolotlmon, distracting him long enough for Aldhamon to fly at him, planting a fist in his face. The rest of the battle degenerated to simply that—physically beating the crap out of each other until they were finally exhausted enough to devolve. Both were doubled over, gasping for breath, and yet somehow feeling a lot better than before the fight.

            “Had enough?” Takuya panted.

            “Guess so,” Katsuharu replied. “Let me ask you something, though. Why are you doing this?” There was silence as Takuya stared at him in confusion. “You’re a decent guy—I could tell when you agreed not to hit Teruo when he was down and how you turned on Koji the minute he did. Teruo once told me that you wouldn’t bow down to anybody. So why are you following Ophanimon’s orders? Deep down, you know they’re wrong.”

            “You don’t get it,” Takuya said. “It’s my destiny to save the Digital World. It’s the destiny for all of us as the Legendary Warriors. This is the only way!”

            Katsuharu ran up and punched Takuya in the jaw. Caught off-guard, the Warrior of Flame staggered back as Katsuharu growled, “Don’t give me that destiny crap. We choose our own fates. Maybe you’ve chosen to give up on the Digital World, but I choose to trust that there are still good people here who want to make a difference. And for their sakes, I choose to continue fighting on their side.”

            “Yeah, well this is what I choose.”

            Katsuharu snorted. “Idiot.”

            “You’re the idiot.”

            There was silence for a moment. Seeing that Takuya wasn’t going to try anything or even go anywhere, Katsuharu turned from him and started checking for the herb he’d come there for in the first place. Plenty of it was burnt from the battle, but enough had regenerated with the power of the Spirit of Wood that he could get a decent amount, enough to last him for another few days at least, until he could find another crop of herbs. The whole time, Takuya watched without asking or speaking. When Katsuharu was finally through, he started to head back to camp when a thought hit him. He turned back to Takuya and said, “And in case you were wondering, Teruo’s not in the greatest shape. That’s the whole reason I was here.”

            “Thanks,” Takuya said. “And just so you know, we still don’t know what was wrong with Koji, but we’re still trying to find out.”

            Katsuharu nodded and walked off. After a moment, Takuya went in the opposite direction.

            Teppei had taken over the watch by the time Katsuharu got back. Chiaki was gone, as usual. Feeling that he needed to say something, Katsuharu muttered, “Sorry.”

            “What was that?” Teppei asked in complete confusion.

            “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I’ve been thinking about it lately—how much I treat you and the others like shit. It became second nature after a while. And yeah, I’m easier on everyone than I used to be, especially after I screwed up with my Beast Spirit, but still. We’ve been friends for—what, five or six years?—and I’ve been an ass to you all this time. I’m sorry.”

            “Well, yeah, there’s no denying it,” Teppei admitted, “but don’t beat yourself up about it.” Katsuharu looked at him in surprise. “I’ve got pretty thick skin, and as Chiaki loves to point out, an even thicker skull. I need all the help I can get in deflating my ego.”

            It was a weird way to say it, but then, when could they ever be frank about things like emotions? A small smile formed on Katsuharu’s face as he said, “Thanks.”

            “Don’t mention it,” Teppei answered. “Now, get some rest. You look like hell.” Katsuharu swatted him on the back of the head but did as told. Of course, it took some of the herb to calm him down enough to begin with, but he finally fell asleep.

            ~~~

            It was probably sometime around midnight when Koichi had the watch. It was the quietest night in a long time—Teruo hadn’t woken up once. Though Chiaki was still gone, it was the closest thing to a normal night than he’d had in weeks. Of course, things weren’t about to stay that way.

            It started with a stifled cry and heavy breathing. Koichi looked toward Teruo, but when he didn’t see him wake, he started to relax a little bit. But it only got worse from there. The crying got worse, and soon Teruo was thrashing. Koichi looked around to everyone else, but they were fast asleep. He couldn’t get any help from them.

            Cautiously, he made his way over to Teruo and saw that he was sweating. Suspecting an especially violent nightmare, Koichi decided the only thing he could do was try to wake him up. He started to shake him, gently at first until he felt how fast Teruo’s heart was beating. That scared him into shaking him a little more vigorously. Suddenly, Teruo’s hands clamped onto his arm like a vise, and he stared at him with panic in his eyes.

            “Teruo, wake up,” Koichi whispered, all the while trying to tug himself free. “It’s just a nightmare. You’ll be okay.”

            Teruo didn’t seem to recognize him and only began screaming and crying. Not sure of what to do, Koichi put his free hand against his mouth to try and stifle him until he could calm down. Unsurprisingly, it only made Teruo more agitated, and he fought back desperately, trying to bite and thrash his way free. All the while this chaos was happening, Koichi looked around for help. Finally, he saw Chiaki walking back to camp.

            “Help, please,” he insisted.

            Without a second thought, she ran over and pulled Koichi’s hand away from Teruo’s mouth. Though Teruo’s cries were louder, she gently shushed him and whispered, “It’s all okay. You’re going to be okay. We’re here. Nothing’s going to hurt you.” Then, seeing that Koichi was still trying to get free, she elbowed him so he’d stop. “Say something!” she hissed.

            “Uh, yeah,” he agreed. “Nothing’s going to happen. We’re all okay, really.”

            After a while, Teruo’s eyes cleared and he buried his face into Koichi’s arm, accidentally pulling him forward as he started sobbing. Koichi looked to Chiaki for help, but she looked just as confused as he was. After a few minutes, they could hear Teruo whispering, “I’m sorry,” over and over through his tears.

            “Sorry for what?” Koichi asked, but he wouldn’t answer.

            Finally, Chiaki came over to his other side, close enough that she could put a hand on his back to comfort him, and asked, “Teruo, what’s wrong?”

            “I can’t…” he insisted, his voice sounding small and terrified. “You’ll hate me.”

            “We won’t hate you,” Koichi promised. “Why would you even think that?”

            All of the unusual coldness and distance Chiaki had been giving off suddenly seemed to evaporate, and she softly said, “You know you can tell us anything. Especially me.”

            “Yeah,” Koichi agreed. “You and I are best friends. We’ve been through too much for me to just dump you for whatever this is. Just tell us what the problem is. We’ll help.”

            Teruo looked at both of them, tears still streaming down his face, and finally he broke down and told them everything:

            “It’s…about Sakkakumon. When I evolved, I saw everything. I heard everything. All of your battles—I know everything that happened.”

            “Everything?” Koichi asked. When Teruo nodded, both Koichi and Chiaki looked ashamed.

            “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I couldn’t control it.”

            “We understand,” Chiaki assured him, and Koichi nodded. It took a little more effort to add, “It was our fault anyway. Just because we can’t make a choice.”

            “Or let our tempers blind us,” Koichi added. “We can’t blame you for what we did. It’s not your fault that you know.”

            “But that’s not all,” Teruo insisted. “Every night, it keeps happening. It’s like you’re all still inside me, and I still think and feel everything you guys felt—all of you, not just our team.” And here, Koichi flushed a little and had to force himself to look at Teruo, assure him that it still wasn’t his fault. “Sometimes, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I feel like I’m just lost in all of you; I’m just reflecting you.”

            “Stop,” Chiaki quietly ordered. “We did wrong, and because we didn’t see it, it’s hurting you. But you can’t just let yourself lose like that.”

            “You told us we could control our Spirits,” Koichi reminded him. “You have to do it too. Even though your Spirits are gone right now, you can’t let it win over you like this. You have to fight. Maybe I was an idiot about Koji. I let my anger take over and I said some things I really regret now. But I never would have let that happen if I knew this was going to happen—to you or him. And I’m sorry.”

            “So am I,” Chiaki agreed. “Don’t give up. We love you.”

            Teruo started to cry again, but it was a relieved kind of crying instead of the terror he’d had before. It was amazing how a simple affirmation of a sentiment he should have remembered could take the weight of the world off his shoulders like that. He eventually fell back to sleep—a sleep that was not entirely nightmare-free; it would take a long time for that to come, but it was far better than what he’d had in a long time.

            ~~~

            “You okay?” Katsuharu asked when Teruo was awake.

            He nodded and answered, “I think so. At least, I think I’m gettingthere.”

            “Good,” he answered. “Glad to have you back.” This was met with a small smile.

            “I…I have to tell you something, though,” Teruo confessed. “I know all about what you guys faced inside Sakkakumon. I saw it all.” The others nodded, having been warned beforehand by Chiaki and Koichi. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to be okay with everything, but… Bokomon, can you write this down?”

            “Of course,” their historian answered calmly, taking out his book.

            Patamon and Lopmon came over to Teruo, and he smiled as he watched them play. “Well, I guess it all started with the guardians…”

 

As always, I apologize for taking such a long time to update. Not only was I making merry with the holidays, but finals hit me, and anyone in college can tell you just how hectic those can be. And regretfully, I may not return to the quick update pace you’re all used to—around February or so, I will take part in the Digimon Friendship Challenge on Livejournal, writing for all five seasons. Of course, I will still be working on “Yang-Yin”—I have a great deal of story to tell—but updates may not come as quickly as they have in the past.

Chapter Text

            Yang-Yin
            Chapter Twenty-nine: “No One Mourns the Wicked”

            The rain came down in sheets, beating everything mercilessly. Thirsty plants greedily drank up the water, treasuring every drop. They stretched out across the wasteland, broken in places, warped by unnatural growth, and beaten, but they had retained enough of their near-sentience to wrap around their devolved master, who lay unconscious in their embrace. Nearby, craters filled with water to form ponds and fallen meteorites burned despite the rain. A boy lay facedown beside one of the ponds, in danger of drowning in the puddles. Beyond them, in what they had tried to designate as a safe place, another boy and four Digimon were out cold in their camp.

            Lightning flashed as a staff came slamming down with almost no regard for the weapon. The opponent leapt over it easily and aimed a vicious roundhouse kick at the staff user’s head. Unable to move out of the way in time, he was forced to take the hit, but it hardly bothered him. His next attack was a jab with the bladed end of his staff, using it as a glaive. It was too strong a thrust, however. Before he even knew what had happened, his opponent grabbed hold of it and used his momentum against him, pulling hard enough to send him flying. While he was disoriented, a quick tug freed the staff from his hands. Now, with his weapon turned against him, he found himself unable to turn the tide back in his favor. The bladed end jabbed at him quickly over and over, never giving him a chance to dodge or defend. He could only just manage to hold his arms up to block when an idea hit him. As the staff thrusts continued, he gathered energy into the lion’s head on his breastplate and prepared to release it.

            But the very next thing he knew, the staff jabbed directly in the lion’s mouth. The dark power exploded violently, sending him falling back and the staff flying into the air. His adversary leapt back and retrieved the staff in midair, brandishing it like a polearm, ready to attack again. But Fractal Code wrapped around Loewemon and devolved him, making the staff disappear. Koichi struggled to pull himself up, but he hardly had any strength left. Later, he’d convince himself that the reason he and the others were still alive had nothing to do with mercy.

            The storm raged on, turning the ground into mud as the lone Warrior ran from the battlefield. Eventually, a bright light appeared in the middle of the wasteland, nearly blinding the runner. When it faded enough to reveal a woman in glowing green armor and golden wings, the Warrior devolved and ran forward, dropping to one knee.

            “At last, we meet face-to-face, Warrior of Water,” Ophanimon declared. “Or would you prefer I call you by your given name?”

            “Whatever you wish, my lady,” Chiaki replied, never once looking up. “I am yours to command.”

            “Then let us meet with your new teammates.”

            Their base was a network of caves built into the cliffs of the wastelands. The Warriors were waiting in one of the larger caverns, but when they saw who was accompanying their mentor, they stared in shock.

            “What are you doing here?” Zoë demanded.

            “Zoë,” Ophanimon said in a soft, but commanding tone of voice that quieted her immediately. “Chiaki has agreed to join us. She’s spent the past month reporting to me on her former team’s actions and buying us time to recover.”

            “But, Lady Ophanimon!” Zoë insisted. “How can you believe anything she says?”

            “Sounds to me like you’re questioning her,” Chiaki replied smugly.

            While Zoë gaped like a fish and struggled between indignation and deference, Takuya cut in quickly and said, “We’re just not sure about anything yet. We just need some time to get used to it all.”    

            “I understand,” Ophanimon replied. “In that case, I will give you some time to grow accustomed to this while I test Chiaki. If you are still not satisfied, let me know and I will arrange something better.”

            “Thank you, Lady Ophanimon,” Takuya answered.

            Starting with Zoë, who brushed past her as she stormed off, Ophanimon’s Warriors left. Remaining impassive, Chiaki muttered, “It looks like they don’t like me very much.”

            “You’ve hardly given anyone a reason to trust you,” Ophanimon said. “You spent about the past three months fighting for Cherubimon while they’ve been for my cause from the start, and suddenly you change sides. How is anyone supposed to trust you?”

            “They shouldn’t,” she answered. “I wouldn’t.”

            Ophanimon gave her an appraising look. “You are intelligent. I can give you that, if nothing else.”

            “Don’t get me wrong, Ophani—Lady Ophanimon,” Chiaki corrected herself. “I don’t have any illusions about what we’re doing. I know that the systematic destruction and reconstruction of the Digital World is for your purposes, to set yourself up as the new god of the Digital World.”

            “Is that an accusation?” Ophanimon asked, her voice neutral.

            “Not at all,” Chiaki replied. “I just wanted to set the record straight. I don’t need any spell to ensure my loyalty. I’m behind you completely.”

            “Why the sudden change in heart?” Ophanimon asked. “You didn’t always believe this; otherwise you never would have joined Cherubimon.”

            “Maybe I can’t be moved by a world that doesn’t have anything anymore,” Chiaki said with a wistful look on her face. Ophanimon simply nodded and asked no more.

            ~~~

            After Koichi had managed to get up and rescue the others, they hid in the miniature jungle Katsuharu’s plants had created. They couldn’t afford to start a fire, so they were forced to weather out the cold and wet. At least the rain had finally stopped, giving them a chance to dry somewhat before they had to move on.

            Katsuharu watched his team carefully, trying to figure out just what to do next. For far too long, he’d shifted some of his responsibilities to the others, namely Chiaki in the leadership department, but now he had to own up to them. And that meant figuring out and analyzing his friends’ moods and likely behaviors. Teppei he wasn’t too worried about; he was at least pretending to take it all in stride, though there was a sense of seriousness that he didn’t usually have. He at least wasn’t likely to do something incredibly stupid. The Digimon, though heartbroken, weren’t likely to cause problems down the line either. It was Teruo and Koichi he was worried about. Teruo was in denial—from the moment he’d woken up, he refused to believe what Chiaki had done. Katsuharu supposed he couldn’t quite blame him for that; he wouldn’t have believed it either, but being thrown into his own trees by Calmaramon’s Titanic Tempest was very convincing. But Koichi? He was quiet, even by his own standards. When he was like that, it was hard to guess his mood, but Katsuharu figured he was angry. And when Koichi was angry, no one was safe.

            “How come Chiaki doesn’t want to play with us anymore?” Patamon asked, and Katsuharu noticed how Koichi very suddenly stiffened, as if putting all his barriers into place.

            “Yeah,” Lopmon agreed. “I thought we were friends.”

            “So did we,” Teppei answered quietly. “Guess that answers the question of where she was going all month.”

            “How long was she playing us like this?” Koichi asked, his anger just barely restrained. “Was she a spy from the start, or is this some new development?”

            “She couldn’t be,” Teruo argued. “There’s no way…”

            “There’s no way she would have betrayed us either, but she did,” Koichi snapped.

            Seeing that Teruo was about to retort, Katsuharu said, “Knock it off. Don’t even start, you two.”

            Bokomon stopped trying to write and said, “What I want to know is how we were taken down so easily. Obviously, the shock of the betrayal affected your fighting abilities, but why were the rest of us unconscious?” Katsuharu tried his hardest not to flinch. This was what he’d been afraid of—sooner or later, someone was going to ask.

            Apparently unaware of Katsuharu’s behavior, Teppei added, “Yeah, that was just weird. One minute, we’re all eating dinner, and the next thing we know, you guys were out. Even I felt a little light-headed.”

            “She poisoned us then,” Koichi answered shortly.

            “Then why only me and the Digimon?” Teruo insisted. “It would have been easier to knock all of us out, then slip out unnoticed. Why’d she go to such lengths to ensure you three could fight her?”

            “She probably didn’t want to waste it on us,” Koichi said. “Katsuharu and I are immune, and she probably didn’t see the point of only poisoning Teppei. Besides, she needed Ymirmon’s mace to knock Katsuharu out.”

            Katsuharu took a breath. “You’re both wrong.”

            Everyone stared at him in surprise, and Teppei asked, “Why? What do you know?”

            He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pouch of herbs. Only a sprinkle of crushed leaves was left inside. He tossed this to Teppei and explained, “I’ve been slipping that into Teruo’s food the past week or so.” At the looks of shock everyone gave him, he added, “It was the only way he would sleep through the night. I tried to keep it a secret, but I guess Chiaki found out. My best guess is that she got it away from me while I was washing up and added more to everyone’s food, but there wasn’t enough for everybody—my last refill of the herb could only last a few days, and there isn’t any of it nearby. When she got to Teppei, she probably ran out, and that’s why he only felt a little out of it. It wasn’t enough to affect him.”

            “What are you…” Teppei started. “What the hell?”

            “You’ve been drugging Teruo for this long?” Koichi demanded. “What were you thinking?”

            “Took the words right out of my mouth,” Teppei affirmed.

            “What was I supposed to do?” Katsuharu asked, keeping his voice calm—a guilty conscience helped with that, no problem. “Nightmares every night straight for a month. It was the only way I thought I could help. I know now that it was probably the wrong thing to do.”

            “Probably?” Teppei repeated.

            “Anyway,” Katsuharu interrupted, “there’s one person whose opinion really matters on this, and he’s the only one I haven’t heard from.” Everyone turned to Teruo, who seemed to shrink under their gazes. “Teruo, I’m sorry. I really am.” In response, he simply nodded. Katsuharu wasn’t sure if it was just supposed to make him feel better or if it was the truth.

            “In any case,” Bokomon said, and Katsuharu was never more grateful to him for interrupting, “we all need to figure out what to do next. Obviously, we need to determine where we need to head next. Should we try to find the train tracks out, or see if we can find another way off this continent?”

            This was territory safe enough for him to walk back into. “Our compasses have been pretty much useless since the Sakkakumon incident, and I don’t think they’re going to work now, not with us hurt and confused like this. I think our best bet is to try and find some kind of landmark and try and figure our way back to the Dark Gate from there. Koichi, got anything?”

            He shrugged in such a way that signaled to Katsuharu that he was just slamming down his barriers again. Great. But still, he answered, “There are ruins all over the place, some in the forest like we were hiding near. But with all the damage Ophanimon’s Warriors are causing, it’s hard to tell where the wastelands really start.”

            “So we’re stuck,” Teppei realized.

            “Not exactly,” Koichi said. “There is the old castle—I mentioned it before, when I was trying to get Bokomon to come along with us. The problem is that I don’t know where it is from here. Without Cherubimon’s tower as a landmark, I can’t figure it out.”

            “It’s something at least,” Katsuharu answered. “We’ll keep trying to find it. With any luck, we’ll be able to find some train tracks on the way, and we can follow them out.”

            There were reluctant nods from the others, but all agreed that this was the best course of action, not to mention the only course of action. As he saw Teppei coming over to yell at him some more, Katsuharu braced himself for what was probably going to be the worst leadership trial of his life.

            ~~~

            “No.”

            Zoë was pacing around the lair, with arms folded and generally sulking. Takuya and Tommy had given up on trying to reason with her long ago and were playing some sort of game. That left J.P. to be the voice of reason.

            “Zee, come on,” he sighed. “I know you don’t trust her, but we’ve got to work with her.”

            “Ugh, you don’t get it!” she groaned, stopping her p